Communicate Better With Your Kids By Learning How To Speak Teen

Communicate With Your Kids Better By Learning How To Speak Teen
Dr Karen Phillip

Psychologist and Health contributor

Oct 12, 2018

It is the type of language all parents need to understand to allow good, open and informative discussion with their teenage child. Learning to speak teen is similar to learning to speak English, Spanish or Chinese, it needs to be learned.

How do you speak teen?

The main thing to remember is a teen is neither a child nor an adult. Their brain is developed only 50 – 60% at best; therefore, they still have limited ability to process as an adult brain does. Teens hate being told anything, nor do they enjoy being told what to do. This is escalated if parents are doing what they prohibit their child from doing – such as too much social media use or gaming. Parents need to set a good example of modelling appropriate behaviours. 

Teens need their space; at the same time, they need their parent’s guidance, love, acceptance, and respect. They want to be trusted and supported at the same time. They also need to develop independence while having protection and boundaries. It all sounds complex and difficult, although it can be easier once you understand what it is they really need. And no, they won’t tell you this of course! Why not? Because you – the parent – are supposed to know all of this (put on your mind reader’s hat!).

I usually recommend a family meeting when we talk to our teens.

This is for a couple of reasons:

  • Safety in numbers.
  • Avoid them feeling isolated or compromised.
  • Both parents can hear their responses, so no repetition is required.
  • Similar rules or boundaries will affect all kids, not just the teen.

When it comes to wanting your teen to do something, undertake a job, adjust social media and gaming use, or to discuss any issue, it is important to learn to speak teen. Teens hate being told what to do. I advise parents to suggest a couple of different options, so the teen can select the one best suitable for them. Either way, the teen should select one of your options and when they make this selection, they own it and it becomes their choice.

The teens I have had bought into my counselling rooms due to them not following the rules, not speaking to parents, not conforming to requirements – they all say something similar. They actually love their parents and respect their rules. However, they tell me they will buck the system because they can. They wait to see the reaction, which most of them find humorous. They tell me they want the parents to set boundaries about phone and internet use plus their social interaction boundaries because they realise they need it. They don’t want the boundaries, but they seem smart enough to recognise they need them. Leaving their phones out of their rooms from 9 pm to charge, a night or two away from their phone, devices or games – this is all acceptable to them. The only issue I continue to hear from the teens, believe it or not, is parents give up or give in. The teens prefer it if the parents stick to their rules and not give in. I know how odd this sounds but this is repeated from boys and girls from 12–17 years. Weird huh?

We need to listen to our teens and ask them open-ended questions rather than closed questions that require only a yes or no response.

Open-ended questions require lengthier responses than closed-ended questions.

Closed Questions to avoid include:

  • Did
  • Have
  • Will
  • Should
  • Is

Open-ended questions start with:

  • What
  • How
  • Why

They require more information and can start a conversation.

Following are the tips to allow you to open up your communication to speak teen. Be there for your teen; to guide, suggest (never tell), and allow them to grow into the amazing independent young adults they are destined to become.

Tips to Talk Teen

  • Talk with them, never lecture or demand.
  • Use open-ended questions.
  • Ask what they think.
  • Listen to their responses.
  • Always agree with what they feel.
  • Validate their feelings, even if you don’t agree.
  • Don’t react, if they become animated. Thank them for speaking and suggest you continue later.

You were a teen once; you survived, as did your parents. There is so much pressure on our teens now, more than ever before – pressure you likely never felt. Parents placing more pressure for good marks at school, or better decision-making, places so much extra pressure onto them. Teens never want to disappoint their parents; if they feel they have, or continually do, they can respond by acting out. Be patient, be kind, and love them regardless.

Read more from Dr. KarenPhillip.

Dr Karen Phillip


By Dr Karen Phillip

Psychologist and Health contributor

Dr Karen Phillip is a counselling psychotherapist and clinical hypnotherapist specialising in parenting and relationships. The widely respected author of “Who Runs Your House, the kids or you?’ and ‘OMG We’re Getting Married’ is also in demand as a speaker and regularly appears on TV and radio.



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