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5 Simple Tips to Help You Have a Real Conversation With a Teen

Conversation With a Teen

A quick guide to get beyond “Fine” and “Whatever,” from child psychologist Shelja Sen

Parents often talk about how tough it is to talk to teenagers, how their kids won’t say anything or listen to them. Let’s take a typical scenario: You want to talk to your teenage son about his “irresponsible” behavior (maybe it’s playing too many games, not doing his homework or neglecting his chores). You approach him by asking, “Can we talk?” He rolls his eyes and lets out a heavy sigh that says, “Here we go again.” As you start with “You need to be more responsible,” he sits there, slumped, eyes glazing over with a look that can best be described as “whatever.” He furtively glances at the clock. Upon seeing his response, you lose your cool and yell, “You know we want the best for you, and you’re not even bothered! Are you?” He responds, “Not really!” and soon the exchange has devolved into raised voices and door slamming. Both parties feel angry, helpless and confused. Talking is supposed to work, right? Except that it often doesn’t.

Communicating with teenagers is a skill we could all stand to to fine-tune. After being a parent and working with children as a psychologist for more than 25 years, I’ve learned there are five essential strategies that can make a huge difference in building a stronger connection.

1. Avoid these two words: “let’s talk”

It seems like the most natural way to start a conversation. But when we say “Let’s talk” to our teenagers, alarm bells go off in their brains and the shutters come down, making it pretty much impossible for a meaningful conversation to happen. Instead, hang around them in a non-demanding or -threatening way before saying anything. At times, I’ll take a book and just plunk myself on a chair in my daughter’s room. Invariably, she’s the one who starts a conversation. Look for your chat window — it might be while you’re driving them to their friend’s home, working in the kitchen or brushing the dog.