How to Talk with Your Teen

It's well known the teen years can prove tricky comms-wise, coach Richard Andrew flags top tips on how to get chatting.

Most parents of teenagers have been on the receiving end of teenage angst at some point: moodiness, door slamming, unwillingness to speak, the list goes on.

Teenagers are going through lots of changes: not just the obvious physical ones, but emotional too. It can be a confusing time, with worries about identity, sexuality, relationships and pressure to do well at school all potentially contributing to stress.

What's worth remembering is that the teenage brain is not yet fully formed, not all the connections work all of the time and so their behaviour can be erratic.

Basing Actions on Emotions

Their brains are not yet sufficiently developed to be rational and won't be until they are in their 20s. Adults think with the pre-frontal cortex - the rational part of the brain which allows us to exercise judgement and consider the consequences of our actions. Teenagers do not yet have all the connections to the pre-frontal cortex and still use the amygdala - the emotional part of the brain - so they tend to base their actions on emotions and may well not be able to explain why they have behaved in a particular way.

These differences between adult and teenage brains can make trying to talk to a young adult very challenging - and frustrating! It's human to feel infuriated, but it won't improve the situation. Remember that you are the one with the adult brain and try to set a good example.

Here are a few hints and tips to help you to have more effective conversations with your teenager:

  • Remember that your child still needs your love and support.
  • Try to stay calm. Teenagers can be annoying, but if you can keep your cool it will help you to have a more useful conversation. Take a deep breath and count to 10 (or 20!) if you begin to feel angry.
  • If things do blow up, walk away. When emotions are running high, it's almost impossible to communicate effectively.
  • Try talking when you're doing something else. Having a "formal" face to face conversation with lots of direct eye contact can feel too much like being told off and actually be unhelpful, especially if your teenager finds it hard to understand their own behaviour. Make space to talk at other times, perhaps in the car, or out with the dog. When you're not facing each other, conversations can be easier.
  • Pick your battles. Giving ground on what your child is wearing may make it easier to have a conversation about when they should come home.
  • Remember to talk about unimportant things too! It can be easy to fall into the trap of only ever trying to talk about important, worrying things. Try chatting about the weather or what's on TV.
  • Try using open questions: "How are you?", rather than "Were you with X last night?
  • Don't make assumptions about what might be wrong.
  • Give them space to talk. Try not to fill silences - give your teenager room and find out what they want to talk about.
  • Respect their opinions. If you can show your teenager that you are listening to them and taking them seriously, they are much more likely to open up with you.
  • Acknowledge that a young adult does have the ability to change things - try involving them in deciding when it's appropriate to come home and how to keep themselves safe.
  • When they achieve something or stick to the rules you have agreed, acknowledge it and give them credit.

None of these ideas are necessarily easy to carry out and require patience and application to try them.

Communication with your teenager will not improve overnight, but if you can help it to move in the right direction, life should get a bit easier for everybody.


Following a career in The City, Richard became a full-time executive coach in 2003 and is a leadership and parent transition coach for My Family Care. For more tips and one to one advice try our Speak to An Expert service