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How to Communicate With Teens

How to Communicate with Teens – By Dr. Jennifer Salerno – Tips for how to encourage positive behaviors in teens through communication and how to eliminate harmful, frustrating, (even dangerous) behaviors using the same methods.

How to Communicate With Teens

Raising a teen with open lines of communication is an ever-changing challenge requiring significant stamina. There are likely to be many setbacks, frustrations and obstacles before crossing the adulthood finish line. All teens can be difficult in one way or another, and some are more talented at pushing our buttons than others.


Chances are you can relate to most of these normal, but difficult to handle teen behaviors

  • Arguing. Many teens argue with you against changing a behavior. In doing so, it feels as if he or she is challenging your accuracy, expertise or integrity. An example of an arguing teen may sound something like, “Marijuana is legal in a lot of states, what is the big deal if I tried it?”
  • Interruptions. Teens may break into the middle of what you are saying and interrupt in a defensive manner. An example of interruptions may sound something like this. You were in the middle of telling your son or daughter about an accident you saw on the news and they break in with, “I got it – don’t text and drive!”
  • Denying. Teens who deny don’t want to change. (At least not right now.) They may not necessarily be acting aggressive or defensive, but they are not recognizing that a problem exists. An example of denial may sound something like, “Nobody wears a helmet when they are riding their bike. I don’t need to do that!”
  • Ignoring. Not a fan favorite by any means, this is the teen that is “yes-ing” you to death, not paying attention, or giving one-word responses. An example of ignoring may sound something like this. You just finished talking at (not with) your son or daughter about prom and all of the reasons why they need to be sure they are nowhere near and do not drink alcohol before, during or after prom. Their response (with an eye roll) is, “I know.”

As parents, we often feel like we don’t know what to do or how to respond when our son or daughter is acting out one of these behaviors, or when we get one of these responses when trying to talk with them. Our emotional response when dealing with these difficult behaviors is what causes us to shut down and argue instead of have meaningful discussions with our teens. There are two steps we can use that will help us have more positive and meaningful discussions. You can explore them further and equip yourself with communication strategies you would use next in my new book, Teen Speak.

How to Communicate With Teens Tips

How to Communicate With Teens Tips #1 – Recognize Interpersonal Tension – What exactly are they saying to you and how are they saying it?
Recognizing this is important in how you proceed in talking with your teen.

How to Communicate With Teens Tips #2 – Step Back – This is the hardest part! Pick your battles. If you truly want to have a meaningful conversation about a risky behavior, you have to be able to keep your cool. Way easier said than done, but so effective when you do it. Consider these key points –

  • It is difficult for a teen to argue with you when you maintain a neutral stance.
  • Arguing and resistance occur in response to a perceived threat, and no one responds well to a threat. If you remain calm, your son or daughter will quickly calm down as well.
  • Difficult teen behaviors can be reduced by you becoming less threatening in your communication, and acting to diffuse – rather than fuel your teen’s resistance.

If you have any questions on how to communicate with teens about a certain behavior, I’d love to hear from you. Email me at Happy parenting!

Dr. Jennifer Salerno is an Oakland County mom, nurse practitioner, an adolescent health expert, author of Teen Speak and founder of Possibilities for Change.

See related posts below for more Teen Tips from Dr. Jennifer Salerno

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