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Parent-teen communication

To better understand

As we all know, communication is the foundation of any good relationship. But communication can get complicated when it comes to parent-teen relationships. During adolescence, friends become increasingly important. The teen years are also a time for experimentation, a quest for independence and self-affirmation. As a parent, you can often feel disconnected from your teen—and like you’re always putting your foot in your mouth.

Don’t worry! Despite what your teen may lead you to believe, their relationship with you is important to them. Which is why it’s crucial that you’re able to communicate clearly with your teen. Even though your teen may distance themselves from you, it’s important you stay available and open-minded. Your teen is more likely to talk to you about the big issues than rely solely on their friends.

Tips for talking to your teen

There are a few basic ingredients in maintaining healthy communication with your teen. You probably already know many of them, but here are a few ways to communicate better with your teen:

Continue to spend time together as a family (meals, movies, sports, etc.)

  • The more things you do together, the better you’ll get to know your teen during this period rife with change. It will also help strengthen your bond and encourage your teen to talk to you.
  • Ask your teen what activities they’d enjoy doing with you.

Figure out the best time to talk

  • Make sure you’re both available before starting a conversation with your teen.
  • Ask your teen to let you know when they’re free, so you can schedule time to talk. It could be during a car ride or an activity, for example.
  • During the conversation, ask your teen if they want your support. If they’re open to it, help them find solutions that work for them.

Just listen

  • Start a conversation by asking your teen about their interests or how their day went. For example, ask them to tell you about the best part of their day. Ask them about their favourite bands and what they like about the music, then listen to some songs together. Ask your teen about their friends and their friends’ families.
  • Read up on their interests that are less familiar to you; this will give you conversation starters.
  • Plan activities around their interests.

Keep an open mind

  • Make eye contact with your teen when they’re talking to you and stop whatever you’re doing (turn off all devices). Watch your tone and body language; stay open and receptive to the conversation.
  • Let your teen express their point of view and listen until they’re done speaking; avoid judging what they say.
  • Make sure you understand what they’re saying; ask questions to clarify or get more details. Rephrase what you heard in your own words to make sure you understood correctly.
  • Watch your teen’s body language for cues about how they’re feeling (e.g., eye contact, posture, smiling, nodding).
  • If you feel yourself reacting strongly to something your teen is saying, or if the conversation is getting too heated, take some time to calm down. Press pause on the conversation. Leave the room if you need to, and go back only once everyone has calmed down. Continue the conversation, letting each person express their opinion about the situation. Avoid shouting.
  • Remember that you’re a role model for your teen, and they’re likely to mimic your behaviour. Be honest and say how you feel (e.g., you’re worried about them).

Don’t downplay their concerns

  • As an adult, you have more life experience than your teen. Your teen is discovering, experiencing and learning to navigate new situations.
  • Remember that your teen will only bring up subjects they feel are important to them.
  • Treat their concerns the same as your own, and be glad they trust you enough to confide in you.

Help your teen to recognize and name their emotions

  • Use your conversations as an opportunity to get your teen thinking about their emotions. For example, when your teen gets home from school, ask them: “How are you feeling these days? Did you have fun with your friends? I feel like something is making you sad. Am I wrong? You seem a little crankier these days. Is something making you angry or anxious?”

Be a good confidante

  • Let your teen know they can trust you and that you’ll keep all conversations private. This will make them more likely to talk to you about sensitive topics (e.g., love, sexuality, friendship, bullying, violence, drugs and alcohol).

Quickly state your point but don’t dwell on it

  • Long speeches don’t go over well with teens, who tend to have a short attention span.

Make time for face-to-face conversations

  • Don’t limit your communication to text messages, which your teen can misinterpret or outright ignore.

Celebrate your teen’s achievements and efforts

  • Celebrate their achievements and efforts as a way of encouraging them to keep up the positive behaviours. If they behave well, you’ll argue less, you’ll have a better relationship, and your teen will be more likely to talk to you.
  • Avoid putting them down (“you’re good for nothing”), criticizing them (“you can’t do anything right”) or generalizing by using words like “never” or “always” (“you never reply to my texts” or “you’re always so rude when you talk to me”). Blaming isn’t constructive and doesn’t foster good communication.

In brief

Just because your child is a teenager now doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly become a stranger. You’re the person who’s always known them best—since the day they were born. It’s up to you to nurture your bond by showing an interest in your teen and asking them about what they’re going through. Communication is the foundation of a good relationship between you and your teen. You need to remember that they’re no longer a child. Your teen is gradually moving toward adulthood. They need to experience new things. And although they need space, they still want to know their parents are never far away. Despite the importance of having their friends around, your teen also needs to talk to you about anything that’s worrying them. They also need to feel like you’ve got their back. They might give you attitude sometimes, but your teen hasn’t turned into an alien. You can still talk to them like any other member of your family.

Resources and practical tools

1. For support

If you are dealing with a situation that has you worried, do not hesitate to reach out to a support worker or a health and social services professional

Community organizations: family centre, youth centre, etc.

Some community organizations offer support programs for parents of teenagers. Call your local organization for information.

School staff members

Latest updates: september 2023

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