Communicating effectively with your teen and being in touch with their emotional and mental health is important to foster and grow healthy relationships. So, how do you foster a genuine conversation based on truth, mutual respect, and understanding? Here are some ideas to create a safe space and encourage healthy conversations with your teens.
The first thing you need for a genuine conversation with your teen is… your teen. Getting your teen to open up and participate in a genuine conversation can be difficult. A good time to start a conversation is when you two are alone and doing something else simultaneously like driving in the car, running errands, or working on a project. Take advantage of these situations and initiate the conversation, but don’t start with, “We need to talk.” This can be anxiety (and eye-roll) producing. Try “How is your class going?” Something specific and that requires more than a yes or no answer. If they are receptive and open, then the conversation can flow.
1. Stay Calm & Listen
Teens may not always want to talk to you, but they want to be heard. If your teen has engaged in conversation with you, it is important to listen intently to what they are saying so they feel heard and validated. Listen more than talk.
2. Avoid Criticism & Judgement
Often as a parent, the stories you hear from your teen might make you squirm. But it is essential to recognize that feeling and avoid criticizing them for what they are telling you. If you criticize, your teen is less likely to confide in you. Instead, listen intentionally and ask if they would like your feedback or advice. It’s easy to jump into fix-it mode, but allowing space for them to simply share will open the door to further conversations.
3. Respond From Your Heart
Before reacting harshly to something your teen tells you, remember to empathize with your teen. We all make mistakes and have bad days. You can try responding to them with things like, “Wow, it sounds like you are having a really bad day?” and then follow up with, “How can I support you through that?” or “How can I make it better?” Respond from the heart. Don’t react from the head.
4. Make Sure They Know You Are There For Them
When the conversation concludes, make sure to remind them that you are there for them whenever they need it. Maybe this conversation didn’t go as well as you wanted, but when they know that you are open to hearing them again, they will slowly become more willing to talk with you.
This will take practice, but the approach works faster than you think and builds trust which leads to more conversations. The key things to keep in mind are teens want to be heard, not told; avoid starting your conversation with “We need to talk,” or “Let’s talk.” And to respond with empathy.
This blog was contributed by Allie Brown, Mental Health Practitioner at Southeast Regional Crisis Center (SERCC).
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.