3 Ways Parents Can Get Teens to Talk


Photo Credit: J.K. Califf

Does this sound familiar?

A typical Parent-Teen Conversation:
Parent: How was school?
Oh, It sucked because I studied really hard for the math test and felt like the teacher put a section on the test that he didn’t tell us about, and it is so unfair!
Parent: Oh no, do you think you got a bad grade?
Well, ya! Oh my god all you think about is grades, grades, grades, do you even care that I am upset!
Of course, you should go to talk to the teacher tomorrow and tell him you think it was unfair, you can bring in your notes to show him that he didn’t cover those topics.
Ugghhh, I don’t know, I don’t even care anymore, and all you care about is my stupid grades, I am just not going to study for the next test, because it is a waste of my time anyways.

When my parents used to give me advice, this is what I usually heard: “blah, blah, blah, you don’t think I am smart enough to handle it, you think I am a baby, blah, blah, blah.” I didn’t understand that they were giving me advice because they were worried, not because they thought I couldn’t handle it.

Today, I went to Van Nuys High School and did an awesome outreach program with Teenline . (A free hotline for teenagers run by other trained teens–who actually take the calls.)

The concepts Teenline teaches to its teen operators are actually poignant for parents listening to teenagers. Many parents constantly tell me they struggle to get their kids to talk to them, so here are some tactics for teens to actually listen and understand that you are trying to help them, not belittle them, and then a revised (and better) version of the above conversation.

1. Listen WITHOUT Giving Advice:
This is an extremely difficult feat for many parents. Let teens vent, let them talk and not feel judged, even though your advice might be well-meaning, teens often feel that they are being belittled or judged.

2. Ask the Right Questions:

Instead of giving advice, ask questions, ask them more about how they feel, what they think they should do, what others have done. Not only will you learn more about how the teen thinks, you will also help them explore their own situation.

3. Let them, or show them, how to come to their own answers:
Learning how to assess and solve your own issues is a lifelong skill that many teenagers do not learn because their parents always tried to solve things for them. When you ask them questions, try to guide them to come up with the answer on their own, instead of you telling them what to do. That way, they will feel empowered because they ‘own’ their solution because they came up with it. This will also help them feel closer to you.

The New Parent-Teen Conversation (employing the new tactics):
Parent: How was school?
Teen: It sucked because I studied really hard for the math test and felt like the teacher put a section on the test that he didn’t tell us about, and it is so unfair!
Parent: Oh no! That’s terrible, what was unfair about it?…Did he not cover it in class?…Did he skip it in the book?…Did anyone else feel prepared?
Teen: Venting period, explaining the situation.
Parent: Well that is really awful, can you do anything about it?
Teen: Maybe I could talk to my friends, maybe go to the teacher or the head of the math department and complain.
Parent: Well that’s a good idea about going to talk to one of the teachers, do you think the teacher will believe you, what can you show them to convince them it was not covered in class?
Teen: Hmm, maybe I could bring some other people with me? We can all bring in our other homeworks and the book to show him it wasn’t on anything we have done before?
Parent: Oh ya, I am sure you could do that, especially bringing your notes and textbook to show them will give you really good proof. You could definitely get your grades changed or maybe a re-take with that tactic.
Teen: Ya, I really think so, maybe I will call my friends and we will get our notes together to talk to the teacher tomorrow at break.
Parent: Good idea, if you want you can practice your pitch with me later tonight to knock him off of his feet, or I am sure you could practice with your friends too.
Teen: Good idea, I will write it up like a speech to him arguing why we deserve to do a retake!

Ok this is a little long, but you get the idea. Take a chance, try out a new strategy! Be sure to see the next accompanying post to this one about what issues teen worry most about!


(explained in Video form…can you tell I am trying really hard to be less nervous on camera!)

P.S Why is it that youtube always seems to get the most unflattering/blinking/midsentence videoshot of me on their opening screen….great, juuuust great.

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Tags: Communication, Relationship, and Teens

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4 Responses to “3 Ways Parents Can Get Teens to Talk”

  1. educational games for kids
    July 6, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    The New Parent-Teen Conversation is great. i believe it will work. if only my parents could make that kind of conversation when i was younger..

  2. Brandon Architect
    August 1, 2010 at 3:24 am #

    The major problem with this post is that it encourages parents to employ ‘tactics’ when talking to their own children. Sure, tactics are appropriate when in a job interview, a debate, or a when filing a complaint, but not a casual conversation with your child. Also, the example conversation is a parody of the average teen. In my opinion, the best approach to talking to a teen is treating them like people. Teens hate being treated like teens instead of normal people. If a parent talks to their child with difficulty, the answer to this problem will not be found on a website. Everyone should treat each and every relationship uniquely, because each relationship has different issues and there is no ‘catch-all’ answer to repairing ANY relationship. The folly of parents who search for such answers is that they look for an easy solution to the problems plaguing their child-parent relationship. The simple fact is there is no easy solution. Parents who do not work to repair the relationship with their child as if they were trying to repair a relationship with a co-worker or spouse will see their teen grow to an adult which still has relationship issues with his or her parents. The answer is in the relationship itself, not in the parent, and certainly not in the teen.

  3. riley
    April 25, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    this could be helpful to other people.. but for me it didn’t really help me out, i didn’t get any closer to my 17 year old son, he just yelled at me that it wasn’t buisness and went to his room with a frown.. he’s just so stubborn and i don’t think i could deal with him anymore. but what you posted was acually good advice.


  1. Welcome CNN Readers | Radical Parenting - April 26, 2011

    […] bothering them. What do teens talk about? What worries them and why are they not telling parents?3 Ways Parents Can Get Teens to Talk Now, that we know what teens worry about, here are a few new tactics to get teens to open up.Lying […]

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