Communicating With Teens: Everything You Need To Know To Make A Better Connection

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Odds are if you’ve ever interacted with a teenager, you may have had a few bumps along the way. From screaming matches to slamming doors and endless arguments, teenagers don’t always have the gentlest reputations. Not to mention that when it comes to teens, communication can be the most difficult part. Sometimes, teens just assume you don’t hear what they say and may decide to tune you out. In the worst-case scenario, your teen’s behavior may get out of control. Although everyone was a teenager at some point in their lives, there often still seems to be a disconnect when trying to get your point across (or teenagers trying to get their point across). Understanding how the teenage mind works and putting yourself in their shoes to really understand your teen’s life, can be helpful, among other tips and tricks.

Are you struggling to communicate effectively with your teen?

Communicating with teens

Even parents who are very close with their teens will find that communicating with them still has its challenges at times; this is normal. From secrets to lies to plain misunderstanding, it can be like a puzzle to figure out what methods work most effectively to keep communication open. These difficulties are enhanced by the fact that many teens are still trying to get a sense of their identity. Teenage communication doesn’t have to be as difficult as it seems for an adult and communicating with your teen is part of building a healthy relationship. Even when it is difficult, there are ways to ease the burden and open up the lines of communication within your family in a new way. With some effort, the right timing, and a whole lot of patience, you can become an excellent communicator with almost any teenager. Here are some tips for communicating with your teen in a healthy way.


One of the most powerful tips for parents when talking with teenagers is to just listen to them. Be sure to give them your full attention, make eye contact, and really hear them. Model effective listening skills, including maintaining eye contact, asking questions, and simply listening to understand. Many times, parents, teachers, and coaches at school are quick to talk over teens because they believe they know what’s best or right, but teens need to be heard. Parents and other adults might jump to conclusions when a teen is upset or assume they know what teenagers are going to say. It’s common for parents to be a little too eager to offer up their own solutions or unsolicited advice in their attempts to be helpful. It’s often more helpful to give them some tips, explain your point of view, and then allow them to decide what they want to do.

The failure of parents to listen carefully can cause unnecessary tension and push the teen away. Before responding and carrying on the conversation, listen to teenagers, and think first. Listening could save you from saying something you’ll regret later and spare the teen from any hard feelings or feeling unheard.

Take an interest in their lives

If parents are only holding conversations with a teenager when they’ve done something wrong, it may be a mistake. Teens are more receptive to the people they feel genuinely care for them and their lives. Take note of your teen’s interests and hobbies as it can create topics for discussion. Get to know teenagers for them— not for the child you think they should be. 

For parents, this can be accomplished by being as involved in the lives of their teenagers as possible. Get to know their friends because friends tend to be the center of their world. Go to their sports games, choir concerts, and piano recitals. Essentially, as a mom or dad, you want to be your teenager’s biggest fan in life. If teenagers feel you care about the things they care about, they’ll often be more likely to open up with you. This is true of both the small and larger things of life.

Ask questions without judgment

A simple way to get to know young people during their teenage years is to ask a lot of questions. Here’s another of our favorite tips – it’s part of the job of an adult to be inquisitive, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Teenagers may be uncomfortable with engaging in conversation if they’re not used to it. The trick is to ask these questions without any preconceived notions or judgments. Don’t ask a teenager a question if you’re not prepared for an honest answer; instead of judging, ask clarifying questions to better understand your teen. In fact, you should feel grateful the teen trusts you enough to be honest.

Don’t jump to conclusions

It’s easy to assume things, especially when parents have suspicions about specific behaviors, but to assume anything doesn’t help. It actually can really harm a relationship by eroding trust. It can be hard to pause while you are thinking things through, but try to assume the best of a teenager when you’re having a conversation with them. If you don’t understand something a teenager says, ask for clarification. It’s even more effective for parents to ask if they meant something in a certain way first rather than just assuming. If there seems to be a lot of misunderstandings happening between you and your teenager, it could be because one or both of you have the bad habit of jumping to conclusions.

Put yourself in their shoes

Everyone was a teenager at one point, meaning you understand them more than you might realize. If you’re a parent, you might straddle the line between being a good parent and a trustworthy friend your teen feels they can come to. Or parents might feel they are too much of a friend and not enough of a parent, or vice versa. In every situation, ask yourself how you felt at their age. Try to see things from your child’s perspective. Better yet, how would your younger self have reacted to your family during your teenage years? Putting yourself in the shoes of teenagers can lead to greater compassion and deeper understanding.

Admit when you’re wrong

Everyone makes mistakes with teenagers in a family no matter how old or how young they are. You’re going to mess up as a parent, teacher, or coach; it’s just a fact. What can help you gain the respect and trust of a teen in your life is admitting when you’ve messed up and having a talk about it. It also sets a positive example and shows your teen that they too can admit when they’ve made a mistake or regret something said or done. There’s no shame in admitting you’re wrong, so don’t second-guess yourself.

Give out what you expect back

If you’re shouting at your teen, you can usually expect them to act just like you and get shouted back at. That won’t help the relationship for either of you. If you’re intently listening, you can expect to be listened to in return. This doesn’t always work out perfectly with teenagers, but it’s a beneficial practice to have in place. Strive to stay positive and calm even when your teen isn’t displaying those emotions. Of course, no one is perfect, so don’t beat yourself up when you lose your cool with teenagers occasionally. When feelings of anger arise, it can be beneficial to give some space, avoid impulsive decisions, and return to the conversation later. The important thing is that you’re trying your best.

Don’t lecture them

No one likes to be told what to do. As parents, however, telling your children what to do is often necessary. This is not only for discipline and raising respectful constituents of society, but also to keep them safe. Still, kids don’t always realize that parents' intentions are usually in their best interest. Parents should try to make a conversation with a teenager an actual dialogue instead of dominating the entire conversation. Instead of lecturing a teen or telling them what to do, explain how you’re feeling and offer advice. This way, you still get to express your thoughts and feelings, but you aren’t forcing your children to do anything. Teenagers will usually be more responsive to ideas if they don’t feel coerced into them, especially if they feel as if the idea was partly their own.

Respect when they don’t want to talk

Boundaries are important and everyone needs to have them. Not honoring your teenager’s boundaries may send the message that other people won’t honor their boundaries either. Plus, they’re more likely to violate yours. If your teen says they don’t want to talk, respect that. Ask when a better time would be for them. Pay attention when it seems like they don’t want to talk. If they never want to talk when they get home from school, could it be that they’re tired from the long day and just want to relax and unwind? Take these cues and use them to your advantage. If you’re always cornering your teen with unwanted conversations in the car (where they can feel trapped), try something else, like a conversation at dinner instead. It’s all about balance and respect.

Don’t induce shame

On the rare occasion your teenager opens up to you, the last thing you’d want to do is make them feel bad which can negatively impact a teen’s sense of self-worth. Whether they’ve imparted something about themselves or are coming to you for advice, savor every opportunity that you get to hear what they have to say. If you’re a parent of a teen, communication can be made easier by creating a judgment-free zone. Once you’ve established this, your teen is more likely to come to you with any concerns they might be having with friends, at school, or in their relationship.

Shame is a strong emotion that can negatively impact anyone of any age, so try to stay away from words and actions that could cause them to feel this way.

Impart your own stories with them

One of the most effective ways to connect with a teenager is to find a way to relate to them. It’s not as hard as you might think because you were their age at one point, even if that was forever ago. If a teen is struggling to open up with you, it can help to open up to them first. Impart stories from when you were a teenager and watch their faces light up. Many times, teens forget that their adult counterparts were once their age too. You can remind them by imparting embarrassing, funny, or helpful stories from that time in your life. They might learn a few family tips that will be helpful in improving their behavior. You’d be surprised at how much positive communication can help grow the trust between you and a teenager.

Are you struggling to communicate effectively with your teen?

Be there for your teen

Everyone will have to communicate with a teen at some point, whether you’re a parent, teacher, coach, cashier, or family friend. It’s best to start learning how sooner rather than later. Teens can get a bad reputation for being hard to talk to but giving them the benefit of the doubt can do wonders. Teenagers can often feel as if the whole world is on their shoulders. A heavy burden can cause them to act in unusual ways. You have the chance to lighten that weight by being there for them. At the end of the day, as long as you’ve reminded your teenager that you love them and are there for them through anything, you’re doing the very best job you can.

Online therapy with BetterHelp

Are you struggling to learn how to communicate with your teen? Is your teen struggling to learn to communicate with you to behave responsibly? If your family issues have become overwhelming and you’re not sure what to try next, consider signing up for therapy through BetterHelp, an online counseling platform. A therapist can help create an environment that makes you feel comfortable talking about your child’s social life, education, or any other matter that impacts your relationship. While it can be difficult to talk about these issues with others in your life, the safety and comfort a therapy session provides may be what you need to fully open up about what you’re going through.

The effectiveness of online therapy

Many different types of people can benefit from participating in online therapy. This is true regardless of someone’s age, gender, or background. Several different studies have found that virtual therapy can be an effective tool for treating “a variety of mental and behavioral health conditions” among children and adolescents. Researchers note that children and adolescents can especially benefit from online therapy because these populations rely heavily on technology.

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Teenagers can be hard to figure out and it can be even more difficult to try and communicate with them when you don’t understand them. Parents can improve their relationship with their teens by trying to remember what it was like when they were their age. While every situation is different, being patient and showing an interest in your child’s life generally leads to more positive outcomes. Those struggling to get through their child’s teenage years may find support and helpful parenting advice in online therapy. Likewise, adolescents may also find that online interventions help them process their feelings and understand their parents better.
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