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June 18, 2015

Communication is a precious life skill, and teaching your teen how to effectively communicate will not only help them throughout their adolescence, but their entire adult life as well. However, preaching to, or nagging at, your teen to open up to you usually isn’t the best route. Common problems for teenagers, such as bullying, body issues, underage drinking and others can be difficult for your teen to talk about. Here are five tips to help you experience meaningful and effective communication with your teen:

1. Give them options

When teens shut down communication on a tender subject, Dr. Fred Peipman suggests giving them options on how they would prefer to communicate on the issue. Let your teen know they can talk with you later on, write to you in an email or risk losing out on the opportunity to influence your decision making. Preferences vary from teen to teen, so encourage your child to communicate their feelings via the medium that makes them feel most comfortable.

3. Maintain a respectful tone

One of the quickest ways to get your child to shut down is to use a condescending, “parental” tone. Make it a priority to keep all communication respectful and to never raise your voice. According to research published in the journal Child Development in 2013, yelling at your kids can be just as bad as spanking and can possibly lead to emotional development issues and/or behavioral problems including vandalism and violence. Slow down your reactions and remind yourself to practice active listening and heartfelt responses.

3. Incorporate a meal

“Hangry”: It’s a combination of being hungry and angry, and it’s a very real emotion for your teen. Always make sure your child has been well fed before attempting a heavy conversation. Talking over a meal is also suggested, as it gives all parties something to do with their hands, making everyone feel less awkward.

4. Be mindful of body language

When communicating with your teen, you must be aware of both your and their body language. Make eye contact (but not too intense) and keep your hands and feet still, avoiding wild gesticulation. Body language can lend clues to common problems for teenagers, so educate yourself on the signs.

5. No monologues

If you want your teen to communicate with you, you have to be open to listening. Approach the situation first with your undivided attention and understanding. Process what your child is really saying, rather than spending the time attempting to think up a response. Once it’s time for you to speak, keep it honest and to the point. You may feel like lecturing your child, but you will often get the best interaction when you allow room for a healthy rapport.

Engaging in meaningful conversation with your teen is the first step to a healthy, happy relationship. If you’re still having difficulties getting your teen to open up, Pacific Quest can help. Pacific Quest’s therapists utilize many communication techniques in our Wilderness Therapy program which have proven to be successful.

Download the Adolescents Program Guide