Talking with Your Teen

Adults generally view adolescence as a period of friction, change, and problems. Many teenagers would agree. For the teenager, it is a time of concern about acne, weight problems, menstruation, late development, early development, sexual arousal, school pressures, boredom, parental hassles, peer pressure and money problems. It is a time of confused feelings, particularly in relationships with parents. Teenagers fight for independence yet fear too much freedom; they resent overprotection but need and want parental attention.

For parents, it is a challenge to keep a balanced perspective on their teenager's emotional roller coaster ride. As their children bounce back and forth between childhood and adulthood, alternating irresponsibility with responsibility, blatantly testing parental authority one moment and depending on it the next, parents often do not know what to expect. They must maintain needed discipline, yet they understand their teenager's growing need for independent action, even for rebellion.

It's easy to understand why many parents and adolescents find this such a difficult period to "survive." But, once it is over, even the most rebellious child often becomes appreciative, affectionate and devoted. With maturity comes the realization that much of their parents' behavior, once so irritating, was motivated by feelings of love for them. Adolescence is a trying period, but it is also an exciting one. If parents and teenagers keep tuned into each other, this period may seem less trying and more fun for everyone.

How parents can help keep the lines of communication open

  • When asked their problems with parents, teenagers most often cite "not being listened to." Really listening is not always easy. Nor is communicating. Some of the following suggestions may help:
  • Give your undivided attention when your teenager wants to talk to you. Don't read, watch TV, fall asleep or make yourself busy with other tasks.
  • Try to listen calmly, even though there may be a difference of opinion. Concentrate on hearing and understanding your teenager's point of view. Don't start preaching when a give-and-take discussion is wanted.
  • Use a respectful, courteous tone of voice. Respect brings respect - even in the way we speak. If we talk to our kids as we talk to other people, they might be more likely to seek us out as confidants. On the other hand, if talked with our friends as we talk with our kids, how many friends would we have?
  • Avoid making judgments. Anyone avoids confiding in someone who is critical of his or her behavior. It is not necessary to approve of your teenager's bothersome behavior, but it is important to understand the feelings involved. Putting yourself in
  • someone else's place is not easy, particularly as attitudes, pressures and choices change. It's a challenge for a parent to be firm about important values while being flexible enough to bend with changing times.
  • Keep the door open on any subject. Too often teenagers avoid discussing things that may make their parents feel uncomfortable. Belittling, humiliating and laughing at youngsters can cause deep wounds and short circuit the lines of communication. Teenagers often pay a very high price for not having the right information about many subjects, including sex.
  • Permit expression of ideas and feelings. Many young people have their own ideas about morality, marriage, work, education, time, money and whatever else is part of our way of life. Just because their views and philosophies are different from yours does not mean that they feel certain about them. Often young people "test" their ideas in conversation. To communicate, you must be willing to listen first and acknowledge their opinions, even if they alarm you. Then give your viewpoints as plainly and honestly as you can, recognizing that love and mutual respect can exist, even when points of view are different.
  • Make an effort to say nice things. Too often parents tend to focus on poor performance and behavior. Every human being needs acceptance and appreciation.
  • Hold family meetings. Most teenagers feel they have little or no voice in family affairs. Family gatherings offer an excellent opportunity for children to participate in decision-making and to work things out together.

How teens can help

  • What responsibilities does a teenager have in trying to bridge the generation gap?
  • Be willing to talk to your parents.
  • Try to understand them--they have needs and feelings and reasons for their decisions.
  • Listen to parents with an open mind and look at the situation from their point of view.
  • Share feelings with parents. They may have experienced some of the same problems.
  • Live up to their confidence by behaving in ways that reflect well on parents.
  • Suggest how practical improvements can be made.
  • Practice courtesy and consideration for others.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health; Ruth Kay, Editor. Parent Pages was developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. HD 17


Anna Steinkraus
Family & Community Development Program Coordinator
(607) 272-2292 ext. 145

Last updated August 8, 2015