Teenagers: 15 Tips for Peaceful Communication

Sometimes it seems that all teens do is communicate—texting, instagramming, skyping. But when adults try to talk to teens, both sides often end up frustrated, annoyed or bewildered. How can we bridge this gap?

First, Understand your Audience

Consider what it is to be teenaged. Teens are in transition between childhood and adulthood. They look like adults—and think of themselves as such—but their brains and bodies will continue to develop for another decade. Teens lack the wisdom that comes from experience, but don’t yet know it.

Teens tend to be chronically sleep deprived. Their circadian rhythms induce them to stay up late and sleep ’til noon, something school schedules (and parents) typically don’t support. Research shows that sleep deprivation affects both physical and mental processes. On top of that, teens are at an awkward phase where adults want them to take responsibility, but offer them little power over their choices, goals and values.

No wonder it’s hard to talk to teens. You have different experiences, different brain patterns, and different positions in life. But don’t despair; these tips will improve your communications with those insightful, innovative creatures.

How to Have Peaceful & Respectful Relationships with Teens: 15 easy tips

  1. Speak with respect. Teens need to be taken seriously, even when they make questionable choices. Don’t shame; help them learn to be an adult. Just like you helped them develop other skills when they were little, speaking respectfully teaches them to communicate well. (And encourages them to do so—when teens feel safe, they’ll open up more.)
  2. Listen. Try to hear what’s going on underneath their words. What is motivating them—fear, curiosity, passion? Listen to learn.
  3. Speak with (respectful) authority. You don’t have to be bossy, but teens want supportive structure. Share what you know, but where possible, allow them to make their own decisions.
  4. Don’t try to influence. Allow teens to have their own opinions and taste. Make it clear that your opinions are yours—what works for you may not work for others. (The secret here is to influence by action; model the values and choices you support.)
  5. Let consequences be natural. If my daughter runs up her phone bill, I don’t get mad or admonish her. She simply pays the difference. If your teen stays up late and is tired in the morning, don’t lecture. But don’t let him skip school to catch up on sleep.
  6. Sympathise. “It must be hard trying to sleep early when your body wants to stay up late” is better than “I told you not to stay up so late. Now you’re tired and blah blah blah…” No one listens to a nag.
  7. Talk about values, choices and responsibilities. My kids don’t know everything about our family’s finances, but they do know our monthly household budget. They understand that if we waste food there is less money left for fun things.
  8. Share. Tell them about your worries and dreams. Talk about what you felt like at that age and even some of the stupid things you did. (Caution: be age-appropriate, and extremely careful to not glamorize stupidity.)
  9. Be positive. Very very positive. Think like a dog trainer—motivate with reward rather than punishment. Catch teens doing things right. It’s nicer to be thanked than to hear a snarky comment. “Thanks for taking the garbage out without being reminded” is much nicer to hear (and say!) than “it’s about time” or “you missed a spot.” Recognise wise choices.
  10. Stop talking. Let silence build, let them talk if they want. Don’t pry. Don’t try to get close artificially or be their best friend. You’re not. You’re an adult and may have authority over them.
  11. Insist on presence. Headphones may be ubiquitous, but if you want me to drive you somewhere, at least one ear has to be free. Otherwise I am a chauffeur, and demand to be paid. If you want me to do things for you, you have to treat me with respect.
  12. Talk about real events. Not everything out of a parent’s mouth has to be reminding, nagging or wise. Talk about neutral, mundane things. Admire their shoes.
  13. Ask questions. Ask teens’ opinions on news events, fashion trends or music. When they tell you their problems, don’t automatically go into problem-solving mode. Instead, ask what they plan to do.
  14. Allow yourself to be influenced. “Thanks for showing me that.” “What a great idea! I’m going to try it.” “Your comments the other day gave me a lot to think about. I appreciate the input.” These are sentences we love to hear; teens do too. Feeling listened to and appreciated builds their sense of self-esteem and contribution.
  15. Apologize. When you’re wrong, admit it. A simple apology works wonders. “I accused you of leaving your dishes in the living room, but it wasn’t you. I was wrong. I’m sorry.” Modeling honest apologies shows teens that it’s ok to be wrong occasionally, and what to do about it.

Communication is a learned skill. Just as we teach teens how to drive or do their own laundry, adults can teach by modeling clear, respectful communication skills. These skills will improve our relationships with the teens in our lives, support their future success, and help them build a more civil society.