Communicate Better With Your Teen ... Beyond Huh? What? I Don't Know

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By Sarah Wilson, PhD

“How was your day?” – “Huh?”

“Did everything go well at school?” – “What? Why?”

“I heard there was some problem.” – “I don’t know…”

By this time, you may be ready to pull out your hair. Or you may be so irritated that you just want to scream at your teen.

Would it make a difference? Probably not.

But having to deal with an unresponsive teen can certainly test every bit of your parenting skills and patience.

So, how can you communicate better with your teen, especially during this time of their life when open and frank discussions are needed more than ever?

Ways to Communicate Better with Your Teenager

Use casual moments to your advantage

Whenever possible, take advantage of informal settings—at mealtime, riding in the car, taking a walk together, or shooting hoops. Physical activity combined with talking keeps your teen engaged and gives them a chance to casually chat about the things they like.

Plus, your teen may be more inclined to open up and talk to you when you’re side-by-side, not face-to-face. When they feel comfortable talking to you about everyday matters, they may open up much easier about more difficult things.

Draw them out by example

Instead of interrogating your teen like a prosecuting attorney, be peaceful. It’s important that they feel they can hang out with you and share experiences without worrying about a ton of intrusive questions.

If they’re not inclined to share much with you, shift focus away from them and try drawing them out by telling them how your day was.

Give them opportunity to respond

Don’t ask one question after another, or keep talking about yourself without end. To have a dialogue—not a monologue—your teen must have ample time to reply. Asking them why they feel one way or another and then waiting for their answer will help you gain insight into their thought process.

If you have a difference of opinion, show them that you can respect their point of view even if you don’t agree.

Listen attentively and without interrupting

Allowing your teen to respond freely, gives you the opportunity to listen carefully. Take in the whole scope of what they’re saying and reply showing reasonableness.

The more time you can take to just sit back and listen, the more understanding you will acquire. Your teen may communicate better and be much more open if they don’t feel pressured by you to share information.

Stay calm, don’t take offense

If your teen speaks to you in a disrespectful tone, stay calm and don’t respond in kind. Instead, show empathy and try understanding the message behind the words.

If your teen disagrees with you on a matter, don’t overreact or take offense. Yelling, screaming, or belittling their viewpoint will only make them feel attacked. Instead, acknowledge their opinion. And if they experience a disappointment, don’t downplay their feelings. Instead, validate their emotions by reflecting back their statements.

Guide them, don’t control them

Allow them to develop their own abstract thinking abilities when they encounter problems. Discuss the problem, brainstorm some options, and then give them the chance to come up with their own solution. Showing trust in their ability to handle the matter will boost their confidence and help them see that you’re on the same team.

Praise them for their efforts and thinking ability and help them reasons matters out. Be positive and encouraging. Your teen may act like they don’t care about what you think, but in reality, they want your approval.

Be assured, you can communicate better with your teen. It is not impossible. Always remember: be quick to listen, think before speaking, and—no matter what—stay calm.
Dr. Sarah Wilson is a marriage and family therapist associate with the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin (RCC Austin). If you need help with parenting and communicating with your teenager, Sarah's training and experience working with parents and teens can help. Call her at 512-270-4883, ext. 104.