Encouraging your teenager to communicate

6min read

Young people are far more likely to want to communicate with you if certain conditions are maintained. If your teenager has self-confidence or self-esteem and thinks highly of themselves, they are far more likely to have a positive attitude towards being in contact with you, and everyone else. 

Key Points:

  • When teenagers are in touch with adults other than their parents, it can help their ability and willingness to communicate with you more positively
  • The lessons they learn with friends may be tougher and more honest than the ones they'd get from you, because family is always there, but friends have to be earned
  • The tone of voice we use when we talk to our teenager can have a dramatic effect on how well we communicate

Contact with other adults

When teenagers are regularly in touch with adults other than their parents, such as family friends, parents of friends, older siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and teachers, it has several positive effects on their ability and willingness to communicate with you.

Such exchanges with other adults reinforce their belief that adults have their best interest at heart and will listen to and respect them. Adults who have faith in them affirm their positive qualities, help them feel good about themselves, and encourage them to go on listening and learning. Also, they see that most adults - even those with different styles of parenting - share common concerns and attitudes so that if you've set a standard in something, the chances are the other adults will back you up; this is helpful and reassuring for your teenager.

While they may want to think that other adults will say that bedtimes are unnecessary, and that chocolate is a main food group, in reality, it's comforting to them to find that their parents sometimes do know best. 

What we say and how we say it

The tone of voice we use when we talk to our teenager can have a dramatic effect on how well we communicate. If you're having difficulties, it's work thinking about your tone, is it chatty, nagging, interrogating, sarcastic or teasing? 

If we can chat, and then talk seriously when appropriate, we'll be communicating. All the others put a severe strain on our ability to listen and hear them, to respect and care for them. Often you can get into a cycle of repeating what you say in such a way that your teenager simply 'turns off' and no longer hears anything. You may feel what you are doing is asking them to comply, and you have to repeat yourself because they won't do what you ask. What they hear is persistent fault finding and complaints, along with your demands. 

Close friendships

Close friendships may sometimes seem like a drawback rather than an advantage when trying to get your teen to communicate. After all, isn't half the problem that your teenager would rather talk to their friends than you? The reason why close friendships are so important is that it means they are talking to someone. If they didn't have friends, the odds are that they wouldn't be talking to you instead, but worrying on their own. 

They're practising getting on and sharing. They're seeing themselves as people capable of making relationships and of communicating. When they've had the opportunity to say. 'I don't need you, I can do it on my own, with people I choose!' they'll come back to apply the skills they're trying out - on you. The lessons they learn with friends may be tougher and more honest than the ones they'd get from you, because family is always there, but friends have to be earned - and that's why they need them.

Heroes and heroines

All teenagers go through periods of being attracted to, if not obsessed with, heroes and heroines. They can be pop idols, actors, gaming characters or totally invented. Heroes and heroines, whatever their actual worth, set goals for young people. You can challenge their actual achievements by discussing what it is your teenager finds appealing or admirable, but simply dismissing their hero or heroine tells your teenager that in dismissing their champion, you dismiss their choices. 

It is good for your teenager to have ambitions, any ambitions at the start. If you're communicating then you can help your teenager to start to work out what it is they admire and what goals they may want to set for themselves modelled on their hero or heroine. 

Opportunities for self-expression

Communication with your teenager can often be improved if you encourage them to explore their feelings or thoughts by listening to or playing music, reading, painting or drawing, creating animations or films, acting - in fact any form of self-expression. 

It's something they may take for granted while young but once children become teenagers they often become embarrassed about performing in public or even in private. Showing them a lead by doing it yourself can give you something to talk about.

Further resources

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.  

This content was kindly provided by agony aunt and Family Lives trustee Suzy Hayman.

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