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4 Ways to talk so your teen listens

When you have teenagers in the family, conversation time with them is often limited to one-word answers or even just a text message. Teens have a lot on their minds, and unfortunately most of it doesn’t involve parents. While they may be feeling independent and grown up, there are still important conversations we need to have with them. How can you get them to really hear your message?

Mom with teenager

Talking to teenagers doesn’t have to be difficult, but you need to know your audience. The same tactics that worked when your son was in primary school won’t work now that he’s a teen. Choosing the right moment for an important conversation is key in making sure your teen really gets your message. Here are four easy ways to spark a conversation with your teen.


Shared activities

Working side by side with your teen on a project or chores is a perfect time for conversation to flow easily. Whether you’re preparing a meal together or washing the car, the focus of attention is on the activity and not on the teen. This makes conversation less awkward for your teen and makes it more likely that she will open up a bit more while she continues working. Shared activities are great for relationship building during the teen years.


Teachable moments

Watch for teachable moments that happen naturally during time spent together. Maybe a scene from a television show or the lyrics in a song sparks a conversation that’s been on your mind. Use these conversation openers to your advantage. Ask open-ended questions that can’t just be answered with a simple yes or no. Pay close attention to your teen’s body language so you can tell when he’s had enough. Knowing when to end a conversation is just as important as knowing how to initiate one.


Stop, watch and listen

If your teen approaches you and starts talking about something, stop what you’re doing, and focus on him. Teens rarely approach a parent to ask to talk; they just start talking. Even if you’re in the midst of preparing a meal or doing chores, stop and listen to what your teen is saying. These opportunities are a chance to continue relationship building as your teen gets older and needs an adult to bounce ideas off of.


Ask for advice

One of the best ways to get your teen talking is to ask her opinion or advice. Teens like to be heard, and it boosts their confidence to feel that their opinion has value. From early on, encourage your children to voice their opinions while remaining respectful of the opinions of others. Your teenage daughter may enjoy giving you fashion advice or maybe her opinion on the latest political scandal. Whatever the topic, you’re using a relationship approach to starting discussions that may lead to other topics.

What to avoid

Michele Borba, Ed.D., author and parenting expert, shares a few communication blockers that are almost guaranteed to make your teens tune you out.

  • Talking too much or lecturing. Say as little as possible so you can listen to your teen.
  • Sarcasm, put-downs and judgments. Teens are hypersensitive, so watch your body language.
  • Multi-tasking. When your teen starts talking, stop and focus on him.
  • Intense eye contact. Try talking side by side instead of face to face, which is easier for teens.
  • Irritable voice tone. A teen’s irritability can quickly turn into yelling, which makes you want to yell too. Keep your voice tone calm and low.
  • Too rushed. Take the time you need to finish the conversation with your teen without being rushed.

Teens still need parents to help guide them, even if they don’t realize it. Finding the right time and place to talk to your teen makes all the difference in getting your message across.

More on parenting teens

How to encourage good decision-making for your teen
5 Important talking points for your teen
Academic success: Help your teen choose the best options

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