It’s no surprise that books on teen behavior sell millions – while we’ve all been teens at one point or another, it’s very difficult for an adult to remember what it was like, and it’s even more difficult to try and empathize with another person’s teenage behavior or mental health problems, even when they’re your child. For example, learning how to talk to teenagers to develop an awesome relationship can be unique and pose its own challenges for every situation.
How to Talk to Teenagers for a Great Relationship
If you struggle to communicate with your teen and are finding that it’s affecting your relationship, it’s time to take a step back and analyze how you approach conversations with your teen and where your inadvertent priorities lie.
1. Don’t Be a Judge, Be a Listener
Sometimes, all your teen needs is a sounding board – someone to talk to who will listen without trying to address every issue or step in with unwanted advice. This is even more important if your first reaction to your teen telling you anything is to figure out what kind of judgment you should make as a result of their experience.
If you tend to scold your teen more than anything else, don’t be surprised if they eventually stop telling you what they’re really doing and start trying to hide things.
It doesn’t matter if what your teen did was wrong – most of the time, your teen knows that. It matters more to understand why they did it and talk to them about that. Be there as your teen’s champion, your teen’s coach, your teen’s guidance – not another reflection of the world around them enumerating all the things they’ve messed up in the last week or two.
2. Don’t Try to “Fix” Their Problems, Because You Can’t
At least, not all the time. The crux of this piece of advice is not to treat every question or encounter with your teen as an opportunity to deliver a straight answer.
For example, if a teen is having trouble with their friend, avoid giving specific advice or telling them what you’d do. Let them figure out what they should do – and provide guiding principles to help them make the right choice.
Similarly, when your teen misbehaves, ask questions. What were they thinking? Did they have a plan? What do they want? As parents, it’s impossible sometimes to control certain frustrations and avoid lashing out with accusations or condemnation. But whenever possible, use the situation to help your teen navigate their problems themselves.
3. Provide Guidance
It’s a popular sentiment that teens continuously pull away from their parents on the way to adulthood, but while that is true, it’s often paired with the misconception that parents become a waning influence on the health, well-being, and personality of their children.
Teens are absolutely shaped by their parents more than any other individual at that point in their life, provided their parents are around to shape them – much more so than their peers or teachers. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it’s usually a teen’s parent-child relationship that affects who they choose as their peers, and it tends to be the greatest influence on their overall mental health and likelihood to struggle at school or with substance or drug use.
Your teens will continue to mirror your attitudes and behaviors whether they realize it or not and will be reliant on you as their main role models until they leave home. That’s a significant portion of most people’s teen years as well as their young adulthood, especially as the economy worsens and more young adults opt to live with their parents.
All this is to say that no matter how it might feel at any given point, remember that what you say, do, and think as a parent will continue to impact your teen substantially, even as they become increasingly independent.
4. Manage Your Emotions
A lot of teens thrive on eliciting conflict. It’s not really something they do on purpose – teens are just generally getting accustomed to managing their emotions and, as such, are quick to resort to the dramatic. That means yelling, screaming, “I hate you!” and running away at the first sign of confrontation.
The worst thing you can do as a parent is give in to your inner frustrations and start scolding them or lobbing insults and yells of your own. Always, always, try to keep your cool.
Again, we’ve mentioned that we aren’t robots, and frustrations can seep through sometimes. But as much as possible, you need to emphasize rising above as a parent in order to provide proper guidance and set an example of emotional maturity. Show your teen that, while it’s healthy to let loose and blow off steam sometimes, it’s never appropriate to deal with a situation – especially a problem – by venting emotionally, especially towards other people.
5. Don’t Press the Issue, A Stone Won’t Bleed
As much as it pains a lot of parents to hear this sometimes, timing is quite important. Your teen won’t be open to a conversation all the time, and you can’t always press the issue just because you demand it. Your authority isn’t absolute anymore, especially when a teen feels quite strongly about something.
All you achieve by pushing when it’s no longer time to push is a much more antagonistic teen and an increasingly frustrated mindset.
This circles back to why it’s important to treat teens as individuals. They’re at a point where their development necessitates boundaries, privacy, and the ability to make choices that matter. Teaching them that also means understanding that there will be times when they draw these boundaries against you, and you need to give them some time to calm down.
6. Don’t Escalate
This last piece of advice can be very simple and very powerful. When your teen disagrees or responds aggressively, don’t immediately match their tone. Parents sometimes think the best way to respond to a teen with aggression is by displaying that aggression back towards them, but more often than not, this just seesaws into a screaming match.
Instead, try to take a pause. A moment of silence can mean a lot more than a loud yell. Sometimes, frustrated teens – whether it’s school stress, relationship problems, or even just simple hunger – can respond to questions like “have you done the dishes yet?” or demands like “take out the garbage, like you were told twice today” with venom.
But if you give them a moment to reconsider what they’ve said with a simple, stern look, you may be surprised how often you’ll get a begrudged “okay, fine.” In moments like that, a win is a win, and it’s better than taking on their energy and spewing it back at them to no avail.
Practice Talking to Your Teen Today
Talking to teens isn’t easy. The context of any given moment, the million things on your teen’s mind, the way their emotions are at play at that given moment, and their individual personalities can make each and every conversation a minefield of its own.
Learning to deal with that takes time, patience, and a keen mind to understand how your teen tends to think and work. But it’s worth it. Becoming a better listener and developing a healthier verbal relationship with your teen can be a good predictor for positive outcomes in life, including better academic achievements and mental health.
For more information on teen mental health and treatment, visit Visions Treatment Centers.