Tips for Communicating with Teenagers

Messages from Chinuch Research Center

As parents of teenagers, you are aware of how important good communication is. However, maintaining open and healthy communication channels can be difficult at times. This section provides ten practical tools and guidelines to help you build a healthy relationship with your teens. By learning how to communicate effectively with your children, you will also help them develop better communication skills. With Hashem’s help, these tools can help you make positive changes within your family and improve your ability to communicate with each other.

Tips for Communicating with Teenagers

“Good communication” is certainly not the first concept that you generally associate with teenagers! Slamming doors, shouting and arguing, are more the norm. Maybe even some chutzpa, right?
But precisely because of this reality, it is important to think hard about how you communicate with teenagers. That means, how to communicate about smaller, everyday things and bigger issues as well.
An important principle to discuss is recognizing that if you keep communication open and easy about the day-to-day things, then communicating about the bigger things will be much easier.

Ten Tips for Communicating with Teenagers

1) Give Them Opportunities.
Rather than sitting your teenager down for a serious talk, it’s better to keep communication channels open and informal all the time.
For example, encourage your teens to help you prepare food and then talk as you work together. Or, give them a lift to an activity once a week so that you can share time and talk without pressure. Family Shabbat mealtimes are also a good way to make sure that everyone is coming together for comfortable conversation on a regular basis.

2) Listen.
We all like to be listened to, but many of us don’t take time to really listen to others.
If your teen wants to talk, take time to listen. Look at their body language too. Are they tense? Relaxed? Give them your full attention and you’ll be happy you did.

3) Ask why, but don’t make judgments.
Pointing out that a particular behavior was really inappropriate is not the best way to start a conversation.
Instead, it is best to assume that your teen had a reason for their actions. Gently ask them about it. Keep an open mind about why they made that choice and try to understand their thought process.
Then, avoid making any judgements. This in turn will help them avoid judging others.

4) Don’t assume or accuse.
Just as with younger children, it is important not to assume that you know what is going on or what has happened.
Don’t ask leading questions. Instead, ask general questions such as, “Will you tell me what’s been happening?” or “I’m worried that you haven’t been yourself. Is everything okay?”

5) Be there to help.
You have always been there to help your children – with their homework, with difficulties at school, or with friends. Why would you stop now?
Even though they are trying to establish their own identity, teenagers need to know that you are always there. Use questions such as:
“Can I do anything to help?”
“Is there anything that you would like me to do?”
These types of questions make it clear that you are letting them decide if they want you to be involved.
This method of questioning is particularly important in a situation, such as if they are telling you about something like bullying. They may be afraid to tell you something because of your possible reaction. So, you need to make sure that how you react and what you say is helpful. You might, for example, say:
“What I’d really like to do is x. Do you think that would help?”
Then, let them think things through. Give them time, all the while with the assurance that you are there for them.
Most of us will probably recognize that we learn a whole lot more by making our own mistakes and thinking things through than we do from being told what to do by someone else. Teenagers are exactly the same.
As the parent, it is important to have confidence in the teenagers and to believe that they can find their own solutions to their problems. Then your role is to help them think things through so that they can do just that. But it is important that you give them the space to do so, with the confidence that you are there for discussion absolutely anytime.

6) Top Tip!
A very good way to make sure that you’re enabling your teenagers to think things through for themselves is to ask open-ended questions, that is, questions that do not have a yes/no answer. These questions often start with ‘How…?’ , ‘What….?’ or ‘Why…?’
It is also really powerful to remind the teenagers that you are confident that they can make the right decisions or find good, healthy solutions to issues. It’s even stronger if you can tell them why. For example:
“I know you can do this, because I have seen you do x before.”
“I have every confidence that you can resolve this. Don’t forget, you managed y.”

7) “Do as I do, not just as I say.”
By the time your children become teenagers, they have been watching and copying what you do for years.
If you want them to behave well, you need to make sure that your behaviour is appropriate. It is not enough just to tell them.

8) Pick your battles.
Some things are more important than others. Pick your battles so that you win the ones that really matter and let the others go.
If all you do is criticize, your teen will become less serious about your criticism. Try to be positive about something and express it. If you don’t like the length of a skirt, maybe praise its colour or the overall look.

9) Don’t react to anger with anger or hurt.
Remember, you are the adult. It is important to remember this, and to model the behaviour that you want to see. It is sometimes hard to stay calm, but it is vital to do so.
If necessary, take yourself away, explaining why you are doing so. Return to the discussion later when you are calm.
It is also important to remember that your teenager doesn’t really mean “I hate you, you’ve ruined my life!” What they mean is that they are upset, and you are there and can be shouted at. It may sound personal, but it’s really not. Don’t take it that way.

10) Avoid asking too many difficult questions.
Ideally, you would like your teens to feel able to talk to you about anything. But that may not be the case, especially if they are doing something that they know you think is wrong. And you certainly don’t want your teen to lie to you. Chas veshalom!
Avoid asking straight questions about difficult subjects. Just keep asking open questions and keep the communication channels open. Hopefully, they will then come to you when they want to talk.
You may find that there are times when you need to ask difficult questions. Even then, keep your approach as neutral as possible, and just ask the teen to talk to you about it.
Use phrases like: “Please tell me what is happening,” or “I’d like to know more about this.”
Teenagers Are People Too
Remember, your teenagers are becoming adults. They are no longer young children and are likely to be very sensitive about that. Respect them and show that you are doing so by giving them the time and space to communicate with you.