How to talk to teens

In an extract from his book Why Won’t My Teenager Talk to Me? Dr JOHN COLEMAN discusses insightful and practical advice for parents and caregivers to encourage positive and respectful communication with their teenagers.

One of the main reasons I called this book: Why Won’t My Teenager Talk to Me? is that this is a question so often asked when parents of teenagers come together in a group. I have run many groups for parents of young people, and I am always surprised at how often adults believe that communication with their teenager has broken down. Being able to communicate with your teenager is the key to a good relationship.

Communication is a two-way process. It involves listening as well as talking. However, it goes further than that. Each person influences the other. How your teenager behaves will have an impact on you; however, you too are playing a part. What you do, and how you behave, has a direct influence on how your teenager behaves.

No one finds it easy to be the parent of a teenager. What is the right way to be a parent at this stage? What is the best way to communicate with someone who seems not to be listening?

Talking matters because effective parenting is not possible without it.

HERE ARE FIVE THINGS TO THINK ABOUT:

  1. Timing – Choose your time. In a car or late at night are often good times to talk.
  2. Useful hooks – Use hooks like news items, or events that are occurring in films, or TV programmes to start a discussion. Talking about things that are happening to other people outside the home may be easier than talking about more personal things.
  3. Share – Be willing to talk about yourself. People often find it easier to talk if the other person discloses a little about themselves.
  4. Act – Offering to make the young person a snack may be a better way to start a conversation than asking a direct question.
  5. Listen – Communication goes two ways. The more you show you are listening, the more the other person will talk.

There are particular things about the adolescent stage of life that have a direct impact on communication. The teenage years are a process, a time of change and development. Over the last ten years or so some important and useful information from research on teenagers has become available. The development of scanning techniques has made it possible to learn what happens in the brain at different stages of life. There is rapid and fundamental change in the brain during the teenage years.

This new knowledge about teenagers can help us understand them better. The more adults understand what happens in the brain at this time, the easier it will be to manage relationships.

Dr John Coleman trained as a clinical psychologist. He is the founder of a research centre studying adolescents and their families. His pioneering and widely recognised work includes workshops for parents of teenagers, two television series, books and videos on the adolescent years.