Parents: Try these 3 tips when talking with teens

Lori Korthals
Iowa State University Extension

AMES, Iowa – With so much going on in the world right now, talking to children and especially teenagers can be a challenge for parents.

Teens are at a stage in life where most still rely on their parents or guardians for basic needs such as food and shelter. However, they also may have their own jobs, cars and, perhaps most challenging, their own outlook on the world, says Lori Korthals, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“Yet, their brains are still developing and undergoing chemical changes that can make understanding things difficult. But with the right guidance, it is possible to get through to them,” Korthals says.

Korthals recommends three things for parents when talking with their teens:

  1. Go to their space. “And I’m not just talking about physical space, but also conversational space. Where is your teen most comfortable? How do they prefer to communicate?” Korthals asked. For example, a parent may be able to have a deeper conversation with their teen through writing a note or sending a text. After the teen has had time to process the written message, having a face-to-face conversation may be easier.
  2. Digest it in bits and pieces. “Remember that as the parents, we are older and have had years more experience processing and digesting big things. Your teenager has not. So not only does their brain not necessarily have the full processing capacity, but they also don’t have the experience. We, as parents, may want to have a big conversation, but their brain can only handle little bits at a time. Focus on the key points that are crucial for your teen to understand,” Korthals said.
  3. Revisit the conversation. “How many times have you been in a conversation and your brain got stuck on one piece of information, so that you didn’t even hear the rest? Yes, that happens to our teens, too. Don’t be afraid to revisit conversations and ask them if they’d like to talk about it further or if they have questions,” Korthals said.

There also may be times when parents aren’t entirely ready to have a conversation, but their teen may feel otherwise.

“Listen to them. You will hear what they are saying, and a lot of it might be insignificant, but they also may be asking for your guidance and your help understanding what is going on in their world,” Korthals said.

These tips aren’t only for talking with teens. Many adults will appreciate this three-step approach, too.

“There is a lot going on in the world right now, so let’s take a little extra time to show people we care when communicating,” Korthals said.

Talking with your teenager can sometimes be a daunting parental task. Lori Korthals, a family life issues specialists, recommends visiting with your teenager in a safe space, digesting the issue at hand in small pieces and revisiting the conversation at a later time.