Tips for Communicating with Your Teen

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Publication Date
October 29, 2013

I have treasured memories of my son as a little tot, but I also remember those teen years when it often felt like he was tuning me out.   Even though these years can be challenging,  Navigating the Teen Years: A Parent’s Handbook for Raising Healthy Teens  from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration points to the desire that sometimes goes unspoken from many teens not only to be heard but also to be given advice:

“Surveys of teens show that they want and expect their parents to play a key role in their lives.  They listen.  They remember your advice.  Even when it seems like they’re not paying attention.”

One of my favorite newsletters is Navigating Life’s Journey  (link no longer active) from the University of Arkansas. In a recent issue they quoted a 1969 book to illustrate that a parent’s responsibility is always be working toward better communication:

"We win their hearts when we express for them clearly what they have said vaguely."

I’ve been reviewing information that might help other dads navigate the challenges of the teen years.  Some general advice I’ve picked up is:

  • Remember what it’s like to be a teenager.
  • Be a good role model.
  • Set clear expectations.
  • Develop the communication skills to help teens navigate their journey.
  • Perhaps most importantly, just be there for them as much as you can.

The Children's Trust Fund of Massachusetts offers some more useful tips that are good for children of all ages, including:

  • Be actively interested in your teen's life.
  • Talk with, not at, your teen.
  • Share things with your teen.
  • Schedule in family time.

Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development has tips on helping teens manage social and emotional challenges and the American Humane Association lists various tips, adapted from the Head Start Bureau’s Building Blocks for Father Involvement:

  • Don’t assume your teenager does not want to be hugged.
  • Attend their extracurricular activities; if you can’t be there, call before or after the event to show your support.
  • Take advantage of car rides and other opportunities to “touch base.”
  • Listen to them. Be respectful of thoughts or feelings they share.
  • Talk about sexual activity and the use of drugs and alcohol. Make sure they are very aware of your feelings on these issues.

Another source of great parenting material is DHHS/ACF’s Children’s Bureau’s Child Welfare Gateway which encourages connection between parents and teens by participating together in everyday activities such as:

  • Have family meals.
  • Share “ordinary” time.
  • Get involved, be involved, and stay involved.
  • Get to know your child’s friends.
  • Be interested.
  • Set clear limits.

My son recently turned 28.  When we talk today as two adults, it’s rewarding to realize that he was listening to me, at least some of the time.  The journey may be bumpy, but ultimately it can be worthwhile as we help our children grow and mature.  Enjoy the ride!

Nigel Vann, National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse