What to Say (and Not to Say) to Your Teen to Improve Family Communication

Family Communication with TeenEver feel like no matter what you say to your teen, your teen just isn’t listening to you or doesn’t care what you have to say?  You’re not alone.  We all know that family communication is vital maintaining a good relationship with our teens.  But sometimes it’s hard to know what to say.


From your teen’s perspective, mom and dad are being too overbearing or trying to pry into their personal business and they just “don’t get it.”


So, how can a parent work on improving open family communication with their teen?  Here are 4 suggestions on what to say and what not to say to your teen.


Try Saying:  “What do you think?”

Avoid:  Lecturing


Effective family communication with teens starts with effective listening. Parents sometimes have a tendency to talk more than they listen, especially when they feel their teen is making a bad decision. But this tendency to lecture only creates conflict and makes it more unlikely that your teen will feel comfortable talking to you about something important in the future—not what you want to do to create open lines of family communication! Be sure to listen to what they have to say in a nonjudgmental way. No matter how much you disagree, start by letting the teen openly express what he has to say before thoughtfully responding. Another good recommendation is to pick at least one meal each day to sit down and eat as a family. This gives families an opportunity to talk about the day’s events or anything else that’s on their minds. If meal time absolutely does not work with your schedule, try to pick a specific time of the day, each day to talk to your teen. Mealtimes are often the easiest but finding the time whenever you can is the most important thing to developing better lines of family communication.


Try Saying:  “Thank you for taking out the trash.”

Avoid Saying:  “You’re just going to turn out just like your brother.  Why won’t you ever listen to me?”


Another point for parents to keep in mind is the concept of “self-fulfilling prophecies.” In this sense, “self-fulfilling prophecy” means that if parents continually talk negatively or do not trust their teen, the teen’s behavior may begin to more closely resemble what mom or dad are already implying. Parents of teens may often take a more controlling or negative tone when speaking to their teen, especially if there is already good reason for mom and dad to be on guard. When parents take a more negative stance in their conversations, the teen may feel like mom and dad do not trust them and nothing they do or say will make a difference. Therefore, they may feel they have nothing to lose with their behaviors. Be careful with taking a negative tone and focusing only on the negative with your teen. This will only make them shut down even more and leads to further damage to the open lines of family communication that parents are hopefully trying to encourage. While it may be hard in some cases, always try to focus on whatever positives your teen is doing and not just the negatives. By also taking the time to mention and talk about the good things the teen is doing, parents can promote their chances of keeping more open lines of family communication.


Try Saying:  “Tell me more.”  or “I’m listening.”

Avoid Saying:  “Don’t worry about it.  You won’t even remember this in 5 years anyway”


Remember when you were 13 years old and your parents said something along these lines? While parents may mean well when they say something like this, and quite often they are exactly right, teens interpret this kind of thing differently. Mom and dad “just don’t get it” or “they don’t understand” are common reactions on the part of the teen. Many of you probably remember feeling that way yourself when you were a teen. Yet we so often repeat our parent’s mistakes now that the shoe is on the other foot and we are parents ourselves. Be sure to listen and let your teen know that you are hearing what they are saying. Don’t simply brush over what seems like an insignificant problem to you if your teen comes to you or opens up about something that is on his or her mind. If the problem is important enough that your teen comes to you for advice or just to “vent,” remember to keep an open mind and never minimize what may be an important issue at that time in their life.  If you want better family communication, then you need to be a good listener to your teen and not just expect them to listen to you only.


Try Saying:  “Now that you are older, we can discuss a later bed time.”

Avoid Saying: “Bedtime has always been 9pm.  No arguing.  Rules are rules.”


As children grow older and enter the teenage years, parents often have trouble accepting the fact that rules and expectations need to change as well. As a parent, it’s easy to rattle off the rules that have been in place for the past several years. But as teens grow older, it is our duty as parents to adapt and adjust those rules to allow our teen to enter a world of more freedom coupled with more responsibility.  It’s easy to simply say, “no, you know the rules” without really stopping to think about what your maturing teen may be asking for. Parents who keep an open mind and model good compromising and negotiating skills are not only teaching their teen a valuable life lesson but also building respect and maintaining open lines of family communication.


If you’re struggling with what to say to your teen and want to improve your family communication, call Tender Hearts Child Therapy Center today to schedule a family counseling appointment and start learning effective communication skills from a trained Family Counselor!



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