talk to teens

8 Mistakes to Avoid When Talking with Your Teens and Young Adults

Communication is fairly easy with young kids. You have the power and authority to pretty much run the show. Sure, you try to be patient, to hear younger kids out, but when it’s time to direct traffic, get things done or lay down the law, it’s not that complicated. Then, they become teens and things change.

When you’re trying to relate and talk to teens and young adults- to understand them- it’s easy to make some common mistakes that can make your job as a parent harder and make matters worse. But being aware of those mistakes can prove helpful. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when you talk to teens or young adults.

1. Assuming the worst.

This can be hard, especially when they’ve broken your trust or seem to be rebelling. But just like you don’t like it when others assume the worst of you, it needs to be avoided with your teen.

2. Assuming the best.

This can also be a bad choice. If you think your teen never makes bad choices, looks at the wrong things, listens to bad music, etc. you may be in for a rude wake-up call.

3. Interrupting: It’s rude and painful.

When a teen interrupts a parent, it’s seen usually as disrespectful. But if a parent is allowed to interrupt a teen, it will build resentment. Make a family rule that no one should be interrupted, and everyone has permission to point out an interruption (respectfully), in all directions.

4. Arguing when emotions are hot.

A cooling off period is sometimes needed for both of you. Nothing good comes of anger or, worse, rage. If things are hot, give each other space. Again, give your teens permission to call you out on getting hot and needing to cool off, too. That shows respect for them, that you’re willing to abide by the same ground rules as you expect of them. Here are 5 Things Not to Say to Your Kids.

5. Talking more than listening.

Parents often want to jump to lecture, but often our teens just need to be heard, to know they are understood which communicates they are valued and cared for. If they don’t feel heard, they can often start drifting emotionally which creates additional troubles.

Our teens just need to be heard, to know they're understood which says they're valued and cared for. Click To Tweet

6. Reacting to what they say more than what they mean.

Being a better listener will help but sometimes they will lash out. Try to look past the emotions and just deal with the facts, even asking for their help in a calm manner. An emotional reaction leads to overreaction and that’s never good.

7. Make light of their troubles or worries.

It can be easy to think “their troubles are not a big deal…I wish all I had to worry about was that!” But dismissing their concerns sends them the message that you really don’t care. Strive for compassion, a key to communicating with teens. It can be hard, but try to remember how big your worries looked to you at their age. The comedian Brian Regan once commiserated with frustrated parents when a distraught child lets go of a balloon and acts like it’s the end of the world. But then he wryly observes that parents should imagine it was their wallet that floated away. “We’ll get you another one!” won’t soothe you when you want to say “But I want THAT one!”

8. Be quick to fix.

Most dads I know want to fix the problem immediately. Sometimes our teens can work the problem out for themselves but just need a sounding board to think it through out loud. Other times, teens just want to know you love them no matter what…first and foremost. There may come a time to offer solutions but be slow to jump to them. Don’t assume. You may even need to ask “Do you want to hear some ideas or solutions now or maybe later?”

Sound Off

What mistakes have you made and now work to avoid?

Mark W. Merrill

Mark is the president of All Pro Dad and Family First , a national non-profit organization. He is also the voice of a daily radio program called The Family Minute.

  • CJ

    Good advice. I know, as the parent of 2 kids in college and a freshman in high school, I have made many of these mistakes that I have had to apologize for over the years.

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Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Is there a way that I talk to you that you wish I would stop?”

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