Positive Conversations with Teens

written by Laurie Lafortune

As children enter the teen years, a lot can change. Bewildered parents may feel that they are living with a distant acquaintance – a confused, self-absorbed, impulsive, and over-sensitive houseguest. So how can you get along better with your teen?

Remind yourself that teens go through a lot during those years. Young teens have rapid gains in height and weight, rapid brain development, and are physically maturing into adults. They require more sleep, and may seem clumsy as they get accustomed to their new body size and shape. Emotional and behavioural changes take place. Parents may notice rapid mood swings, impulsiveness, and a belief that they are invincible, which can lead to risky behaviours.  Younger teens or preteens will behave differently than 14 or 15 year olds, who will be different from 17 or 18 year olds. And although 18 years may be the age of legal adulthood, older teens can still use some gentle guidance from their parents.

It can all be difficult for parents, but think how challenging these years are for teens! In addition to the many changes taking place, many teens feel pressured, stressed, worried, lonely, and feel incredibly self-conscious, as if they are being watched and judged about everything, all the time. How can a parent help?

Although sometimes it may sometimes not seem like it, teens do appreciate their families, and need to be connected. Some parents might pull away in an effort to give their teen the autonomy and ‘space’ they seem to want. Yet, teens need their parents, and generally do appreciate them, although they might not show it in obvious ways. Here are some suggestions from teens as to what they wish their parents would do (and not do).

-Listen. Don’t freak out and immediately offer solutions and advice.

-Ask what she thinks is fun.

-Recognize that she is growing up.

-Stay calm and don’t overreact.

-Treat her as a unique individual.

-Let go of past mistakes and don’t bring them up at every occasion.

-Don’t talk about him when he is present, as if he isn’t there-it doesn’t matter if the comments are negative or positive.

-Don’t tell stories about when he was little, or repeat embarrassing anecdotes.

-Don’t say she is too young to understand, or to make a decision, or just too young.

-Don’t say, “You’ll live, you’ll get over it,” or any comment that belittles his concerns.

-Don’t say, “I know what you mean. I went through the same thing and it turned out okay.”

-Don’t always talk about school or sports achievement.

-Don’t focus on the negative, on the things he didn’t do, or say, “we only want you to try your best,’” but then be disappointed by the outcome.

-Don’t use sarcasm.

-Don’t compare him to other teens or siblings.

-Don’t get upset when he wants to spend less time with parents and family, or alone.

Here are five phrases suggested by parent educators that parents can try using to have a positive conversation with teenagers. They won’t guarantee peace, but they are a start to building and maintaining a positive relationship. Try saying:

  • Do you want some ideas to fix the problem, or do you want me to just listen?
  • How can I help?
  • I’d like to understand you a little better. Would you tell me your ideas about…..?
  • I was wrong.
  • I don’t know much about this but I would like to help in any way that I can.