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Teen5 Tips for Effectively Communicating With Teens

5 Tips for Effectively Communicating With Teens

Motherly CollectiveMotherly Collective

“You’re not listening.” I’m sure you’ve heard your teen say this; the ever-present, three-word phrase that is typically accompanied by feelings of annoyance and frustration. What routinely follows is the unforgiving thought: I keep saying the wrong thing.

When we’re not taking fault as parents, it’s easy to feel uncertain about communicating with teens and wonder why they tune us out, especially when our every effort is made to lean in for a better understanding.

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Here’s the raw, simple truth: Teens, more often than not, want to share their experience and feelings without feedback. Caregivers, however, find it difficult to take a step back and disengage from a “fix it” mindset, and instead give unsolicited advice or make attempts to solve what’s happening. 

Yes, the intentions behind the “fix” are well-meaning, but your teen usually sees this differently.

Related: To the mama uncertain about navigating the teenage years with her daughter 

Which is why we have to differentiate hearing from listening. Hearing is the act of perceiving a sound, therefore hearing the words that are being spoken. Listening, however, is about connecting to the content with thoughtful attention, bravely tuning in to the present moment. 

When we hold room for an independence that is developmentally normal and show our teens that we trust their capacity to problem-solve on their own terms, we get to redefine our strategies. 

5 effective phrases for communicating with teens 

1. “How can I best support you right now?”

When we’re creating a new behavior, it’s difficult to move the mark from a “fix it” mindset to intentionally detaching from providing solutions. Change takes patience and consistent practice, and this question automatically gives space for both. 

When we ask what’s most supportive in the moment, we’re indicating that our teens have control over what transpires next—and we’re willing to collaborate and follow their lead

Parents will often ask, “But what if they don’t know?” Tread lightly. Their uncertainty can provoke that part of you that wants to give recommendations, yet they may need time to curiously observe their own process. 

2. “I’m here for you.”

Hold space for them to process their feelings. It’s no secret that adolescents experience big emotions. Teens are asked to regulate their emotions, yet with their still developing brains, this skill isn’t easily accessible in times of vulnerability.

Saying things such as “calm down” or “take a breath” aren’t necessarily helpful. Big feelings can feel like messy moments, yet when you attempt to make your teen feel better by quieting their emotions, you’re hijacking their natural response and invalidating their experience.

You don’t need to agree with their response or reaction; the goal here is to show them that you have their back. When in doubt, silence can be a foundational skill showing your teen that you can help contain whatever feelings arise.  

Related: How to let your teenager make mistakes

3. “What makes sense for you?”

Just because you’ve been in a similar situation in your own adolescence, doesn’t mean you should share your experience. Caregivers share with good intentions, yet teens observe this as lecturing, which welcomes another common adolescent phrase, “We’re not talking about you.”

Teens can be ego-centric, a developmentally normal quality where adolescents are self-focused and have difficulty empathizing with the perspective of another.

Teens are rarely asked what they want, so when an adult asks this question, it not only provides another opportunity for your teen to think about their options, but they also get hands-on practice with self-trust and problem-solving.

4. “I’m not sure what to say.”

American Professor Brené Brown stated it best, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.” 

As caregivers, we’ve recklessly aligned with the idea that we need to say the right thing, as though the perfect words would somehow undo a painful experience or soften a discomfort that we inherently know can only heal with time. 

Teens welcome this statement because it shows an authenticity; the willingness to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. The intention is to connect with your adolescent. Remember, when we get stuck in searching for the right words, we’re moving in the direction of disconnection.

Related: 10 phrases to start a meaningful conversation with your kids 

5. “I can only imagine how that feels.”

This is why I don’t tell you anything” is another phrase that comes with parenting teens. Teens are quick to point out what we’re doing wrong, yet they don’t typically give concrete feedback about what we can do differently.

Stating “I can only imagine” aligns well with emotional validation and acknowledging your teen’s unique perspective. It also detours us from adding our personal thoughts and feelings, therefore leaving room for further conversation to be initiated.

It also minimizes the chance for negative feedback, since the word “imagine” highlights a willingness to be curious and explore, versus jumping to conclusions or making assumptions.

Good intentions, even those around communication, only go so far with teens. Teens think in concrete terms, so when you find yourself wanting to give advice or recommendations, take a moment to pause. This is a reminder to redefine how you put into practice and actionize your good intentions.

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This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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