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Grow Closer With Your Teen: How to Respond When Your Teen Talks to You.

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

a mom using open body language with her teen
mom and teen daughter

Parenting teens can be a rewarding and challenging time. Teenagers are transitioning from being dependent on their parents to being more independent. They are often less likely to talk to parents about their personal struggles, such as doing something wrong or feeling hurt by friends. When they do open up, it can be a wonderful chance for parents to express their love and eagerness to learn more about their child. It is also an opportunity to help teens develop their self-awareness, self-acceptance, and problem-solving skills.

When your teen shows that they want to talk to you about their life, let them know that you are their for them and are willing to listen. You can demonstrate this by responding with warmth and without passing judgment or giving advice when they haven’t asked for it. Here are some other ideas:

  • As much as you can, behave casually and comfortably. Try not to be too stressed about what you think they are going to share. Use abdominal breathing to become and remain calm.

  • Use responsive body language, such as leaning forward. Avoid crossing your arms over your chest.

  • Sit up straight and pay attention. Look them in the eyes.

  • Give your teen your undivided attention. Don’t look at your phone or glance at the tv.

  • Nod your head to communicate that you are listening with openness and that you understand.

  • If you don’t understand, ask them if you can ask a clarifying question and then let them continue talking.

  • When you respond, talk gently and slowly.

  • Respond with care and acceptance (even if you don’t agree!). Do this by empathizing and validating your teen. Use statements such as: “I’m sorry you’re going through this”, “that sounds very difficult”, “It makes sense that you feel upset (sad or angry or scared or lonely….)”.  Be open to them correcting you if you use the incorrect word to describe their feelings.

  • It also helps to recognize the courage they have demonstrated in talking with you. Try saying "I imagine you found it difficult to say that. Would you like to say more?"

  • Saying something like, "Thank you for being so open and honest" might help your teen feel less alone and more appreciated and connected with you.

  • Sometimes, if you listen closely, you might sense that your teen feels regret. Perhaps, they regret acting without fully considering the consequences of their actions or they didn’t know how to handle a situation and felt helpless. You can express empathy by using phrases like "Ahh. What a powerful feeling to experience.”

  • Teens are more likely to come up with their own solutions or ideas about how to handle similar situations in the future if you listen and respond without judging them. Acknowledge their self-reflection, insight, and resourcefulness by saying something along the lines of "That's a big decision. That's good to hear. I appreciate you sharing this with me.”

Signs that you're sliding into shutting down connecting communication with our child is if you are talking more than they are, you have stopped listening to them, you are focussed on thoughts about what they 'should' have done or 'should' do, they are getting quieter and saying less, or they have folded their arms across their body or are turning or walking away from you. If this happens, pause, take a breath, and say something like; "I'm sorry that I'm getting riled up about this. I want to hear what you have to say. I care about you and I'm noticing that I want try to fix things instead of listening to you and trying to understand. Can we try again? I promise to try and put my own needs aside and be there for you." And then do your best to remain calm and open. Practice adominal breathing. You can teach your child that they can trust you and that you are working hard to be there for them.

In a nutshell, think about what allows you to feel comfortable talking to others. Are you likely to talk to someone who interrupts you, challenges you, corrects you, looks at their phone, or gives you advice you haven’t asked for? Probably not. If you’re like most people, you’re more likely to share something important with someone who practices the skills discussed above. Most people (including children and teens) want to feel important, understood, and accepted when they are sharing something important with someone else.

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