Techniques for Talking to Teens

by Jill Taylor on April 24, 2013

in Parenting

teenIf there is an adolescent in your home, the next few years can be some of the best fun you have ever had, or some of the most trying.

Much of that depends on how you would answer two questions:

  1. Are you communicating effectively? Yelling and one-syllable answers don’t count!
  2. Are expectations established? Are there clear, fair, firm rules in your family? Having good house rules can decrease areas of conflict and argument.

Dr. Alma Golden, McLane Children’s Scott & White pediatrician has worked with countless teens, government organizations, and families trying to help parents speak up and communicate with their teenagers.

Parents can be the Ticket to Success

Whether you want to talk about your teen’s day at school or who he’s dating, getting a teenager to talk can be difficult. However hard, it is important to speak up, because Dr. Golden says parents are the key.

Surveys and studies consistently show that preteens and teens want to learn the most important lessons in life from their parents. Not friends, teachers or a girlfriend, but parents.

This means, they want to know how to make decisions, how to be respected and show respect, how to plan for life, how to have strong friendships, how to refuse drugs and sex, and how to plan for a great career and a good marriage.

Dr. Golden says, “Do not fail them.  Do not run away from these important conversations. In fact, learn how to start these important talks.”

Be W-I-S-E when Talking to your Teen

Entering into your teenager’s world can be intimidating at first. To help you feel comfortable talking to your teen, Dr. Golden has an easy acronym to help you.

“W” is for “Welcome” time with your teen. If you appear irritated, rushed, tired or self-conscious, your teen will sense he is not welcomed, and that talking is a chore, not a pleasure.

“I” is for “Interest” in what your teen sees, does and thinks. Let your teen be the expert on her world. Encourage stories of what she experiences, and how that affects her and her friends.

“S” is for “Support” for your teen’s daily success and future dreams. Tell him about how important values like compassion, honesty, and hard work, help prepare for those successes.

“E” is for “Equip” your youth with the knowledge, attitudes, skills and opportunities to face problems.

Then Get Ready to Talk!

Dr. Golden says sometimes it is easier to talk about “things” rather than “to” people. Try some conversation starters like these when you are riding in the car, or sitting around the kitchen table:

  • The newspaper said there were some people with drugs near your school last week. What would your friends do if someone tried to sell drugs to them?
  • Ms. Martin told me that there are five girls at your school that are pregnant. What do your friends think about teenagers having a baby?
  • I haven’t seen Jason around here lately. Sometimes relationships with old friends change during the teen years. How are things going with your friends?

“Parents are the best role model on how to solve problems and establish relationships,” says Dr. Golden.

Don’t forget to Listen

If your teenager has opened up, don’t forget how to listen.

Consider these ideas to maintain healthy communication:

  • Stop whatever you’re doing to be interested and attentive.
  • Let your teen talk, and don’t interrupt or talk down to them.
  • Give them clues that you’re listening, nod your head or respond and look for their body language for non-verbal clues.
  • Ask open-ended questions and avoid questions that can be answered by yes or no.
  • Help your child clarify his feelings by naming it, restating his thoughts or asking questions.
  • Follow-up and ask about topics you’ve talked about before.

Avoiding Confrontation with Clear House Rules

“One way to reduce arguments with a teen is to have clear, fair and firm rules that are shared early and maintained,” says Dr. Golden.

She suggests discussing respect, honesty, privileges, age for dating, rules for media use, guidelines for teen’s outings, restricting all drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Even further, she says those teens who live in clear boundaries are more likely to have a successful future.


  • Show respect. Get respect.
  • Be honest. Gain trust.
  • Make a mess. Clean it up.
  • Responsible workers reap rewards.
  • No drugs. No alcohol. No tobacco. Period.
  • Permission BEFORE you go.
  • Parents must know where you are, who you are with, and how to contact you at all times.

Parents should look forward, not back

Many parents struggled with problems during their own teen years and worry that they are setting higher standards for their teen than they met during adolescence.

Dr. Golden shares a quote for parents who had a rough life as a teen: “If I tell you not to do what I am doing, I am a hypocrite. If I tell you not to do what I have done, I am a teacher.”

As you move forward and talk to your teen, you will establish bonds of trust, communication, friendship and mutual understanding.

As you care about the little things, you will lay a foundation to talk about the big topics facing teenagers. For more information about talking to teens about sex, visit our past blog article: What Parents Should Know about Adolescent Sex Exposure.

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