11 tips for communicating with your teen

How to approach conversations with empathy and understanding.

Mohammad AlFranji with his sons Amro, 11 years, and Abdul Samie, 13 years in Jordan.
Ahmad Shennawi
19 October 2021

Establishing a connection with your teen is the basis for effectively supporting their mental well-being and social and emotional learning. When we love someone, we are interested in them and in their thoughts and feelings. As your child grows, communication is one way of showing your love and respect for your growing child.

Build on your relationship

1. Show an interest in what is important to your child to show you care.

2. Share things about yourself and find ways to make connections and identify shared interests.

3. Ask your child about their opinions, views and perspectives so that you can understand their feelings.

4. Build on the communication you had with your teen when they were younger – communication is important from babyhood to adulthood, and if you and your child communicated well, shared your feelings and thoughts, it is more likely that this will continue as they progress through adolescence.

Be an active listener

Active listening is important when interacting with your child. An active listener is engaged, caring, non-judgmental and empathetic, even when (and especially when) they don’t agree with others’ views. While some of your teen’s beliefs or opinions may differ from your own, you need to respect and value their views. This will also help them to respect your views and opinions. Listening actively helps children to feel heard, understood, less alone and calmer. By contrast, if we don’t listen properly, we risk making them feel as though we are brushing off their concerns and invalidating their feelings. This can leave them feeling defensive, frustrated, alone or hurt.

If we don’t listen properly, we risk making them feel as though we are brushing off their concerns and invalidating their feelings

5. Show attentive body language. Maintaining eye contact, giving affirming nods, a look of concern or encouraging smiles are all small gestures that let them know you are paying attention. Use natural body language and cues that make your child feel that you are present, interested and really care. Even without using words, you can communicate you are listening and that what your adolescent is saying is important to you.

6. Ask open-ended, clarifying questions to gain a deeper understanding of how your child feels. These questions have no right or wrong answer; they simply help you gain insights into what your teen thinks. For example, you could try any of the following questions: “Could you explain what you mean by…”, “Why do you feel you got upset when…”, or “How do you think you would have felt if…” Use whatever phrases come naturally to you and your teen to show empathy.

7. Mirror what your child is saying by restating and paraphrasing what they conveyed. For example, you could say, “What I hear you saying is that…” or “Am I correct in understanding that you feel…”

8. Give positive feedback and affirmation. Giving specific immediate praise can help build adolescents’ confidence and self-esteem and encourage them to continue those same behaviours. For example, if your child shares that they have been feeling very stressed, you could respond by saying, “Thank you for being brave and sharing how you’re feeling right now” or “It can be hard to tell someone when we are feeling stressed. I’m so glad you shared that with me.”

9. Validate what your teen is expressing. This can help teenagers accept their emotions and feel safe to express themselves. For example, you could say, “It’s understandable that you’re feeling angry right now, I would feel the same if it were me,” “Thanks for sharing that with me. It can be hard to share with others when we are feeling sad” or “Sorry to hear you’re feeling stressed. I would feel that way too if I were in your shoes. Let’s see together is there is anything we can do to help.”

10. Sometimes it may not be easy for your teen to talk about what is worrying them, and you may not know what to say. It is fine to explain to your child that you are there for them, that you are ready to talk and listen any time. Do not force the conversation if your teen is not able to describe what is going on for them.

11. Communication is not only about sharing difficulties or tough feelings. It is important to share funny things, what went well during the day and find opportunities to laugh together and be affectionate in whatever way is comfortable for your teen. Having fun together and laughing hard is a wonderful way to feel good and strengthen your relationship!

This article is based on UNICEF and the World Health Organization's Teacher’s Guide to the Magnificent Mei and Friends Comic Series.