How Can I Get My Teenager to Talk to Me? 4 Tips

4 steps towards a better relationship with your teen.

Posted Mar 02, 2020

Teenagers spend their lives in constant communication. They text. They chat. They live on social media.  

Why then, do so many parents complain that their teens never talk to them? 

One reason may be that you're thinking about what you want from them and not about what they want and need from you. These four steps help build and strengthen an everyday relationship between teenagers and parents. It's built on the same thing that all good relationships are—respect, reciprocity, and just shared fun.

1. Everyday conversations are money in the bank. Invest in them.

Relationships—especially intimate relationships—take time to build. You probably began your relationship with your best friend at work by complaining about the copier or an idiot customer or the lousy coffee. It was only later, after a lot of shared stories about TV shows and vacations and broken down cars that you opened up about your boyfriend or how you felt when your mom had cancer.

Kids are the same. Yes, you’ve known your teen since you were powdering their bottom (something you both might want to forget). But their ability to form intimate relationships with friends, their insecurities about a new relationship, or their worries about life after high school are new. Before they make themselves vulnerable by talking about those things, they probably need to talk about daily stuff. Like videogames. Or the new plate armor they’re developing for their latest character in dungeons and dragon. Or the most fantastic shade of eyeshadow the latest YouTube makeup star was showing off.

Is this the deep heart-to-heart you’re longing for? No. But it’s an investment. You are building trust and sharing something that they want to share. Toddlers point out kitties and trucks and dinosaurs to the people they love because they’re sharing what is most exciting to them. In fact, they ONLY share it with the people they love.

Videogames, memes, and YouTube videos are the teenage equivalent of Legos, Disney princesses, and dinosaurs.

Share their emotions. Show them that you take what they think is cool seriously. It’s a place to start. You’re building trust and showing you’re a safe and reliable ally. 

2. Model everyday sharing.

People are built to mirror each other. If you want your child to talk about their day, talk about yours. Talk about the great lunch you had. The ridiculous dilemma of being stuck in the toilet stall in desperate need of paper. Your sadness about your friend who took another job. Be light. Be short. Be natural.

Don't be a conversation hog. Give them time to tell their own stories. That’s how natural conversations go. You tell me your story, and it reminds me of my own. I share. People naturally want to balance out intimacy. I tell you mine, and you tell me yours.

3. Listen, don’t lecture.

Nothing kills a conversation faster than someone telling you that you're wrong and they know better. Don’t be that person.

One of the smartest things my mom used to do was to just let me talk once I got started. She’d be driving and I’d start thinking out loud about school or friends and... she’d just be quiet. Or nod, say "uh-huh" at regular intervals, and ask a neutral question now and then. Because she wasn't talking, I kept going to fill the void.

Research suggests that listening and being accepting encourages teens to talk much more openly than asking pointed questions, criticizing, or pulling them up short because they’re worried about your next reaction.

4. If they have a problem they want help with, don’t be afraid to share an opinion!

Most teens want advice from their parents. What they don’t want is to be told what to do or what to think. So ask leading questions or share strategies—just like you would with a friend. “You’re having trouble keeping up? Do reminders on your phone help?” “I use to-do lists because I just can’t keep track of things in my head.”

Just as with the friend you love or the know-it-all you avoid, a lot of time, the difference in having your advice accepted is in the tone. Helpful sharing—with the clear implication that they may know this already—can be welcome. They do have a problem after all!

Telling them they should know better and you have the one correct solution is never welcome and rarely listened to. Even if you do know better and do have a good idea.

The bottom line: Relationships with teens are relationships.

Everyday, accepting conversations between people who like each other, share jokes and stories, and show each other respect are money in the bank as far as relationships are concerned.

This is particularly true for relationships between parents and teens.

Like money in the bank, you need those reserves on those rainy days when there are things you have to say and they don’t want to hear. Or when they’ve got something hard to tell you that they know you need to know but they are afraid to reveal. Or when you just have to tell them they're wrong and they should just listen.

Strong relations between parents and teens are also the basis of a strong adult bond that can last a lifetime.