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Tips for Talking and Listening to Your Teenager

Many parents tell me how hard it is to relate to their teenagers. Do any of the following sound familiar?

“He doesn’t say much.”

“I get one-word answers and then she walks away.”

“She never looks happy to be with me.”

“He only comes around when he needs something.”

“We used to talk and do things together, now he spends all of his time in his room.”

If you have heard these common responses, you aren’t alone. I have personal experience raising teens and professional experience counseling them. I know firsthand that it isn’t easy parenting teenagers, and it’s a major shift from parenting younger children. Most parents worry about their teenager’s social and emotional health, so they want to talk more. At the same time, most teenagers want more space from their parents. Struggling to relate is a very common dynamic between parents and teens, creating a stressful home environment. Knowing it’s a common part of raising children helps, but only so much.

From my 20 + years of working with clients engaged in parent-child conflicts, I coach parents to do the following:

1. Limit your questions and watch your timing. Kids respond differently at different times and they will give you signs if this isn’t a good time. A one-word answer usually indicates that later may be better.

2. When your child is talkative, do your best to listen and make comments that show you’re listening. Show empathy for your child’s feelings. Try your best not to be reactive.

3. Refrain from offering advice or criticizing your child. Sometimes, your teen just wants to vent and be heard. Given the space to talk about the issue, your child will usually come up with strategies to solve it. Only offer advice if your teen asks for it.

Most teens will find you easier to talk with if you:

  • listen more than you talk

  • show empathy for their feelings

  • refrain from trying to fix their problems

I also encourage you to talk with other parents you trust. They can probably relate to the challenges that you have with your teenager, and you will feel less alone in your parenting struggles.

If your child is exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety, isolation, or engaging in high-risk behaviors, do not hesitate to find a therapist for them to talk to. They may find it easier to talk with a counselor than you. While that may bother you, they might benefit from having a trusted adult to confide in.

Questions? Need to schedule your first appointment? Please contact Dr. Carlin at or call 908.552.0264

Additional Reading:

Book Suggestion:

For those of you wanting a reference, check out “How to Talk to Kids So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Although written more than 40 years ago, the information remains fundamental and important.

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