Communication between Parents and Teens

Harry Enfield’s Kevin went upstairs one evening as a pleasant 13 year-old.  He descended the next monosyllabic, confrontational and malodorous.  It’s a common stereotype, recognised and now quoted by both parents and their teenage offspring.

Differences between how adults communicate and young people communicate often leaves both sides feeling the other isn’t communicating with them. Over many years I have asked many young people and parents to identify the aspects of each others’ behaviour in relation to communication that they fee causes all the problems.

Here are their thoughts as well as some of my suggested changes to make things go better.

Features of teenage communication with adults

  • Verbal and non verbal signals  such as the way they leave their clothes lying about; the state of their bedrooms; their body language.
  • Teenagers communicate on far more emotional level than adults and so are frequently misunderstood or misheard by adults
  • many young people use electronic and non face to face means of communicating with peers when discussing sensitive issues whilst adults do the opposite – they use the electronic means for everyday chit chat and face to face for serious issues
  • young people may misread body language and facial expression in adults due to changes in brain chemistry
  • young people seldom respond well to being questioned or asked for details (this may indicate mistrust to them or an invasion of privacy)

What teens think of adult communication skills

  • Always in a rush
  • Always angry/nagging
  • Not really listening and easily distracted
  • Get hung up on small details rather than hearing what the speaker is trying to convey
  • Don’t understand what is being communicated

Features of adult communication with teenagers

  • Based on logic and ‘thought through’ responses rather than emotion
  • Use blame rather than express how they are feeling e.g. ‘You use this place like a hotel’ rather than ‘It hurts me that the only times you  are here are when you need to eat, sleep or change your clothes – I feel excluded.
  • Use belittling or patronizing phrases and statement
  • Over emphasise or repeat if not getting the required verbal responses
  • Use passive aggressive language and terminology such as sarcasm and threats to make a point
  • Use eye contact and name primarily when addressing something serious or wrong and none for positive or friendly interactions

What adults think of teen communication skills

  • Never listen
  • Only answer with a grunt or sound when asked a question
  • Lie frequently
  • Secretive – won’t talk about a lot of things
  • Always angry
  • Have to have the last word
  • Won’t look you in the eye

How adults can enable improved communication with their young people

  • Be more specific about what you are feeling as this helps them to articulate their emotions too
  • Allow them to say what they want to say without having the last word – particularly if they are upset about something
  • Identify when what is said by either party requires action and response from the other and when it is just offloading or making comment
  • Negotiate and renegotiate privacy boundaries as they get older in an informal way
  • Communicate on an ongoing basis, not just during prescribed periods (the myth of quality time)
  • Seek out opportunities (going shopping for groceries, in the car, when unpacking shopping, weekend breakfasts, eating together) when no eye contact is possible.
  • Not firing questions at them or correcting their grammar or vocabulary
  • By text message when information is to be given that you want them to remember (dates, times etc.) so they can reread at will
  • Treat each interaction as a new event – don’t let past issues get in the way
  • Acknowledge and recognise the feelings behind their words and actions.
  • Give praise and positive statements with eye contact and using their name
  • Agree boundaries or procedure for new situations in advance rather than reacting when things are not going as you would like
  • Find neutral shared interests to talk about – TV shows, fishing, fashion etc. Get interested in their interests and let them explain and share them without trying to become ‘one of the kids’
  • Give praise and positive reinforcement to communication that is clear and honest

© Shae Cardenas |


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