Strategies for Communicating with Teenagers

Accepting that your 15-year-old is no longer five

I have worked in child care centers with babies, toddlers and preschoolers for years. I also teach college level early childhood education courses. With the advent of dual enrollment programs, I now have high school students in my college courses. It has become quickly apparent that communicating with teens requires different skill sets than those needed for small children or adults.

Here are some strategies that have been effective in communicating with teens.

Grab their attention.

Today’s teens are constantly multitasking. They eat lunch, do school work, text multiple friends and download their favorite music, all at the same time. You’ve got to be interesting to compete with that! Do the unexpected from time to time. I’ve even showed up for class wearing a blue wig to grab the attention of my teen students.

Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Start off assuming that they are mature enough to handle the information. You can always scale it back later, if needed. Addressing them on a younger level from the beginning can be insulting and can send up defensive walls. I speak to the teens in my college class in the same manner as I speak to the adults, and then, if it seems warranted, I bring it down a notch.

Ask them to repeat the information back to you.

The high school students in my classes were asking me the same questions repeatedly. I started asking them to recite the information I was teaching back to me. I also told them to write it down. This reduced the repetitive questions.

Don’t attempt to compete with electronics.

Trying to talk when they are playing with their phone, tablet or other devices is useless. I’ve noticed that many young people seem to go deaf once they have electronics in their hands! Many times I’ve had to softly put my hand on a student’s arm to get their attention. Make sure your teen is focused on you before you attempt to ask a question, give instructions or have a conversation.

Find some common ground.

I had a student who was extremely withdrawn. She entered class at the last minute and rushed out as soon as it was over. She didn’t voluntarily participate in discussions and gave one word responses when called on. When I brought up one of my favorite authors in class, the student told me that she had read one of his books and asked for my suggestion on which one to read next. After that, she started opening up in class. Sometimes it takes finding something in common to open the lines of communication.

A few other tidbits

Sometimes teens feel like they just can’t talk to their parents. I’ve had teenage students come to me with issues big and small that they were embarrassed, ashamed or afraid to discuss with their parents. A few students have told me that they simply didn’t want to worry their parent with the problem. Make sure your teen has other responsible adults in their life who they can turn to when talking to you is just out of the question for them.

Teens want to have strong relationships with their parents. Numerous times, I’ve heard them express jealousy of another students close relationship with a parent.

They tell their friends everything. I’ve overhead some very private information being exchanged between pals. If you want to know what is going on with your teen, get in good with their friends!

Teen communication revolves around texting. If you don’t know how to text, learn. In fact, ask your child for help! Then start texting them daily.

My own daughter is eleven. Working with my teenage students has provided good preparation for her teen years, which are right around the corner. My texting speed is improving each day!

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