How do I get my Teenager to Talk to me?

We’ve been warned about it for years: “Wait until they’re a teenager.” And the implied difficulty of challenges ahead of us in the teen years. It’s partly the role of adolescence in a human body. That you will become your own person. Every human being on the planet past the age of 20 has officially navigated adolescence. The adolescent ‘grunt’ is not a time to give up on keeping and growing a great relationship with your teenager.  

The person who gets challenged the most is you, their parent. Don’t take it personally, and wonder “Why are you doing this to me?” It’s not because you’re a terrible parent. It’s actually because you’re a great parent. It means they feel safe with you. As a parent, these challenges can be pretty demanding and they will test the limits of your relationship with this person. 

It makes sense to invest in a robust and stronger relationship with your teen. One that will get you both through adolescent challenges. A relationship that is repairable even when times are tough – especially when times are tough. And a relationship that will hold within it the pattern of your adult to adult relationship.

When their biological clocks flip and the adolescent grunting starts, take heart. There’s plenty you can do about that. 

  1. Don’t take it personally. You may not like them replying to you in grunts, it is very rude. Think about how you are communicating with them. Are you calling out over your shoulder, yelling from another room or talking to them with an impatient, hurried or ‘snippy’ tone? No judgement here. It’s awareness we’re after. None of these actions on your behalf will be helping though. Remembering that their grunting is a biological function, make the effort to talk to them face to face and keep a pleasant tone whenever possible. Grunting back is not an effective long term strategy. 
  2. Continue to be yourself. Chat away about the usual things you normally talk about. What would you like for dinner? Remember it’s (insert appropriate activity) on Monday, do we need to get anything organised for that? Pass on any family news even if you think they may not be interested, tell them anyway. Keep this communication light and regular and if you need them to answer a question, simply be quiet until they answer it. If that takes a while then re-ask the question lightheartedly, “Are you still thinking about the answer?” Remember tip 1, it’s not personal. 
  3. Use written communication to keep everyone in the loop with organisation in a busy family. That way the responsibility is on the teenager to know what’s going on without you having to keep reminding them. If they slip up occasionally it’s a great learning opportunity. Written communication can be as simple as a whiteboard on the fridge with dates and who’s doing what on it. Ours is referred to as ‘Mission Control’.
  4. Send text messages for questions and instructions. You’ll often get a quick reply and it lets them know you’re thinking about them. For example, “Dinner’s at 6, I was thinking about lasagna, does that work?” The expectation that they’ll be home at 6 for dinner is encoded in the text. They may be agreeing to lasagna, it turns out they’re also agreeing to be home by a certain time too if they’d like their dinner hot. 
  5. Eat together as a family whenever possible. Get their buy-in on favourite meals, what bits they can cook/clean up and use that time to chat about things that are happening in their lives and the outside world. No TV on. No phones at the table. 

These five small actions, taken daily and paired with the frequently conveyed message of “I love you” give you a firm relationship foundation that can be built on with deeper conversations when needed, and will stand the test of time without crumbling when things get rough. You, as the parent, get to set the standard by which your family functions. Be present with your teenagers and they will be present with you. 

If you’d like to read more on talking with your teenager, click here

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