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Tips for Talking with Teens and Young Adults

As parents or adults working with teenagers, we sometimes don’t realize how our communication styles or statements may actually hinder our interactions with teens. Consider the following twelve styles of communication. Do you see yourself in any of these examples?

  1. Ordering, directing, commanding. Example: You must be home by 5 P.M.
  2. Warning, admonishing, threatening. Example: You had better do it, or I’ll be furious.
  3. Moralizing, preaching, imploring. Example: You should do this.
  4. Advising, giving suggestions or solutions. Example: Do it this way instead.
  5. Persuading with logic, lecturing, arguing. Example: Your way makes no sense at all.
  6. Judging, criticizing, disagreeing, blaming. Example: I can’t believe you wore that.
  7. Praising, agreeing, evaluating positively, buttering up. Example: You’re so competent!
  8. Name-calling, ridiculing, shaming. Example: You have no sense of direction.
  9. Interpreting, analyzing, diagnosing. Example: You’re saying this because you’re jealous.
  10. Reassuring, sympathizing, consoling, supporting. Example: You’ll feel better tomorrow.
  11. Probing, questioning, interrogating. Example: How do you know it will work?
  12. Distracting, diverting, kidding. Example: You think that’s bad? Wait ‘til I tell you about my operation.

At first glance, these practices may seem harmless. But are they? Many of these styles are not only harmful, they can be potentially destructive. Like a roadblock, each of these practices can bring communication to a screeching halt. Why can these issues stop communication in its tracks?

  • These statements convey the desire to change, rather than accept the other person.
  • These statements communicate a desire for the other person to think, feel, or behave differently.
  • These statements communicate lack of acceptance. A climate of lack of acceptance is not conducive to personal growth and emotional well-being. When people feel judged, threatened, put down, or analyzed, then they tend to feel defensive and resistant to change.
  • These statements inhibit self-expression and self-exploration—both of which are necessary for solving one’s own problems.
  • These statements take the responsibility for change away from the owner of the problem and place it in the hands of the speaker. It is important to keep the accountability focused on the person who owns the problem.

What can you do if you realize that you’re using one or more of these communication styles? Try this simple technique: Stop, Look, and Listen:

1. Stop: Discontinue the style as soon as you realize you’re doing so.

2. Look. Really look at your teen. Make eye contact; read his/her body language; See the person, not just the behavior.

3. Listen. Take time to listen and resist the temptation to fix or critique. Allow your teen to talk. Don’t be afraid of silence. Use reflective listening techniques to help draw them out (“It sounds like you’re feeling….” “So what you’re saying is….”).

Stop, Look, and Listen. It might save your relationship with a teen or young adult every bit as much as those three words saved their life when they were children.