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How to Talk to Teens And Have Real Conversations

An author and a Doctor of Psychology with specialties include children, family relationships, domestic violence, and sexual assault
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Normal teens tend to desire privacy, space, and independence. It is a normal part of their development. These desires can make having genuine conversations with them more difficult, especially as a parent. Below are some things you can do to help you have genuine conversations with teens and get them to open up with you.

Here are 12 tips on how to talk to teens and have real conversations.

1. Be Authentic

The first thing about knowing how to talk to teens is being authentic. Teens are very perceptive. They can detect when someone is not being authentic or genuine with them. Authenticity is the key to having a relationship with anyone, especially teens. Be yourself, be honest, and be open to what your teen has to say about life. They will eventually feel that you are being authentic and may open up to you.

2. Let Them Know You Care

If you act like you are indifferent, or worse yet, show disdain toward a teen, they are going to detect your sentiments. If you want a teen to open up and have a conversation with you, then you need to let them know that you care. Listen to them while also showing positive regard.

For example, nodding as you listen, putting down your phone, and making eye contact. Let the teen know you care through these actions, not just words.

3. Ask Them About Themselves

Letting a teen know that you are by actively listening is a good way to open the door to connected conversations. It is also helpful to ask them questions about themselves. For example, if you have a teen in high school, ask them regularly about their day at school. Change up the questions by using some of the thoughts and ideas below:

  • What is your favorite class right now? Why is it your favorite?
  • What was the best thing about your day today?
  • Was there anything difficult about your day today that you want to talk about?
  • Which of your friends do you share classes with and do you get to talk to them or sit by them?
  • Whom did you sit with at lunch and did you talk about anything interesting? If so, can you share?
  • Who is your favorite teacher and why?
  • Was there something that you looked forward to doing today? If so, what was it and how did it go?
  • What was the hardest part of your day today?
  • What was something you did today that you are proud of doing?

Here are some additional questions to ask your teen as conservation starters:

  • What do you think makes a good friend?
  • Do you think the rules at school are fair or unfair? Why or why not?
  • Do you think homework is beneficial? Why or why not?
  • What is something you are really great at?
  • What is something you would like to be great at doing?
  • What is your favorite thing to do outside of school?
  • What is one of your greatest strengths?
  • What is the best book you have read and why?
  • What is the best movie you have seen and why?
  • Who do you look up to as a role model and why?
  • What are three words to describe you?
  • What was your favorite vacation of all time? What made it so special and memorable?
  • What is your greatest achievement in life so far?
  • What is the greatest challenge in your life right now?
  • If you could remove one obstacle in your life what would it be?
  • What is the most difficult thing you have had to overcome?
  • If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?
  • Where do you see yourself three years from now?
  • If you could change one thing about your life what would it be?
  • What is your favorite time of day and why?
  • What is your favorite time of year and why?
  • What is one of your best memories?
  • What do you think of bullying? Do you see bullying ever happen at school?
  • What makes you laugh the most?
  • Who do you think knows you the best?
  • How do you think your friends would describe you?

4. Make Time With Your Teen

Showing teens that you care also means that you should make time for your teen. To get your teen to open up to you and talk genuinely, you must make time with them. Schedule dinner out or meals together at home. Put away devices of all kinds, especially phones, as they are a major distraction and prevent uninterrupted communication.

Look for activities where you can share time together. These activities should be conducive to having conversations. Such activities include walking, going hiking, working out, shopping, cooking, and gardening. Make sure that it is something that they enjoy doing as well. Use the time together to create meaningful conversations. If you don’t know how to get started, use some of the questions previously mentioned.

5. Listen Attentively

As parents, we want to teach our kids and tell them what is best for them. This can be less than helpful when our teen comes to us with a problem and we do more of the talking than they do. We need to allow them to vent, share, and speak their mind. This will help them process their problems and, hopefully, realize some solutions as they process their thoughts. If they don’t come to the solution, you can always help talk them through a variety of options for their solution.

The key is taking the time to listen fully first, without interruption. Allow them the space and time to express themselves, so they can fully explain their situation, problem, or experience. In some instances, they simply want to share and aren’t looking for solutions. We should be sensitive to what they want from the interaction and conversation.

For example, if you teen comes to you because they fought with their boyfriend or girlfriend, allow them to share what happened. They may need to process the argument and the exchange of words that occurred. Talking about it with you will help them process their thoughts about the exchange. Don’t be hasty to jump in and provide a solution. Let them come to their thoughts and conclusions about the situation. If they ask for your opinion, you can share, but again, try not to jump in and provide solutions when they may simply be coming to you so they can talk to process their emotions.


6. Model Openness

Learning how to talk to teens means learning how to be open. If we want our teens to be able to come to us with a sense of openness, then we need to model openness with them.

For example, perhaps you had a work project that didn’t go well. You can share with your teen what happened and that while you were disappointed in the result, it was a good lesson in life. Sharing this with your teen and showing vulnerability and openness with them can help them become more open toward sharing with you as well.

7. Communicate Expectations

Having openness with your teen helps create meaningful conversations. However, we must keep in mind that we are still the parent. There is a fine line between being friends with your teen and being their parent.

Having clear rules and boundaries can help your relationship with the teen. Teens like to know what is expected of them. Establish rules that are clear, such as curfews, chores that must be done daily, and rules about gadget use.

Communicate Rules Clearly

Rules should be clearly understood so teens know the boundaries that are in place. This can help your child in knowing where the boundaries are for them. For example, telling your teen that they should be home at a reasonable hour is not clear. They may come home at 1:00 am and think that is reasonable, whereas, you as the parent were thinking that 10:00 PM is a reasonable time. Have the conversations in advance so they know exactly what is expected of them.

When boundaries and rules are not clear, resentments can form. Your teen will not like getting scolded or punished for things that they didn’t know were expected of them. Resentments are like walls that go up in a relationship. They do not help create open and real conversations with your teen.


With the example above, perhaps they were given a one-month grounding for coming home at 1:00 am. They didn’t know what you expected of them, so the month grounding will seem completely unreasonable to your teen, and they will resent you and the consequences you have given them for something they didn’t even know they were supposed to do.

Communicate Chores Clearly

Give your teen a clear list of chores, and list them specifically according to what you want to be done on which days of the week. For example, if you want them to wash the dishes every day after dinner, then put it on the list of their chore chart that you can put on a family bulletin board or the kitchen fridge. If you want them to mow the lawn every weekend, then add that to the list, too. Make the list and hold them accountable to that list. Using a blank printable Chore Chart for Teenagers is helpful, and this one is free!

Be reasonable with your expectations as well. If they don’t know how to do something—for example, make lasagna from scratch—and that is what you are asking of them, then perhaps you need to spend some time teaching them first. This is also a great opportunity to talk to your teens and create meaningful conversations and interactions as well.

Set the tone for your relationship by setting reasonable expectations and rules that are clearly laid out for them. In many homes, having the rules posted somewhere in the house is helpful for all family members.

8. Control Your Own Reactions

Our teens will screw up and make mistakes. Some mistakes will be big and some small. Regardless of the infraction or situation, we need to remain calm, so we can control our reaction. Screaming at our teens when they screw up (and they will) will not help the situation and will likely only alienate them.

Overreaction can create barriers between you and your teen. It is like a wall going up, much like resentments can cause. Control your reactions toward your teen and their bad behaviors, so that you can maintain good communication and avoid saying things that you will regret later. Consequences can be conveyed in a calm voice and are often more effectively communicated in this manner than yelling or using raised voices.


9. They Need Some Privacy and Space

When kids enter into adolescence, it is developmentally normal for them to desire more privacy, their own space, and independence. It is a natural part of their development as they mature and grow. As parents, we need to recognize these needs. We should allow for some privacy and time alone in their own space so that they feel both respected and comfortable in the home.

However, it does not mean that we need to allow our teens to lock their doors and that we are not allowed to enter their rooms. Parents should have the ability to check in with their kids and know what they are doing in their room. Knocking first is always a good policy, along with respecting their time alone in the bathroom.

Technology and Allowing Privacy With Limits

In this age of technology, parents must be aware of what their kids are doing online, as our job is to protect them. If we don’t know what they are doing online because we allow complete privacy, then we are not protecting them adequately.

Predators online exist everywhere. There is also sexual and violent content that may not be appropriate for our teens to view online. As parents, we need to communicate that while we may trust our teens, there are content and people online that we don’t trust, and it is our job to actively protect them. When we communicate this role as a parent, we must also let them know the parameters for checking in on their viewing content. A popular app that many parents like to use for monitoring their teen’s online activity is Bark.

10. Validate Their Feelings

Allow your teen to express themselves and validate their feelings. For example, if they break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, it is helpful to allow them to talk about things and vent to you. Don’t minimize their feelings by saying, “well, it’s only a high school relationship.” This relationship is important to them, and a breakup can be earth-shattering for them. Listen, empathize, and validate their feelings.

11. Praise Your Teen

Teens may act like they don’t need praise or approval, but they still yearn for it, especially from their parents. Give them praise, even if their reaction may seem like they don’t care. Most care quite deeply, but their teen facade masks their true feelings. Praise them for their achievements, success, and especially their hard work on whatever it may be. They need praise as much as they did when they were small children.

12. Be an Authoritative Parent

Authoritative parents are sensitive parents who are receptive to their kid’s feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Yet, they are still the parent, and they clearly establish rules and boundaries.

Authoritarian parents, on the other hand, are much like dictators. They aren’t interested in hearing about the thoughts and feelings of their teens or children. Their word is the law and must be followed at all costs. It is hard for anyone to have a good relationship or meaningful conversation with a parent who acts as a dictator.


Be the Parent You Needed When You Were a Teen

Think back to what life was like when you were a teen. Did you have a parent or adult who listened and had great, open conversations with you? If not, work toward doing better for your teen by being the parent you needed when you were a teen.

Make time for your teen and listen to them attentively, so you can create openness and positive communication and learn how to talk to them. This communication will help establish a healthy relationship. Patterns of good and open communications will help you reap the benefits of a healthy relationship well after they reach adulthood.

More Tips on Communicating With Teens

Featured photo credit: Eye for Ebon via unsplash.com

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