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Talking with Teens

By April Litchford, Extension Assistant ProfessorMan and Woman laughing together

For many parents the teen years are frustrating as their children’s mood and attitudes change and progress to maturity.  The teenage years are defined as being between 13 and 18 years of age however, many teens start experiencing unpredictable behaviors and personality changes around 10 years of age.  These years are often filled with resentment, anger, and confusion for teenagers which can affect parents and families as well.  Communication is key to working out these emotions and situation, but teens often become unwilling to communicate with their parents.  Keeping communication open and easy with teens, their parents, and other family members can be an ongoing challenge.(Crockett et al., 2007)  But there are some things parents can do to encourage teens to be more open.  

One of the first steps to encourage teens to open up is to find ways to start conversations.  It may seem easier to just leave the teen alone until they are ready to talk, but often they don’t know how to get the help they need to deal with their thoughts and worries.  Often teens limit the subjects they are willing to talk about because they struggle to understand their parents views and values.(Sillars et al., 2005)  Efforts by parents to become a trusted listener and develop conversation skills that build understanding can help teens realize they have a safe place to go when they need to talk about their everyday challenges. 

Below are tips to help parents create amazing conversational experiences with their teens. 

  • Play it cool:  When a teen starts to open up a natural reaction is to play detective and try to get as much information as possible from them.  Don’t ask too many probing questions, let them tell you at their pace while keeping the conversation going.  Some great neutral questions are:  How did you feel about that? Or How did you respond?(Moriarty, 2015)
  • Get to know your teen:  Because teens are changing so rapidly and are exposed to new ideas and desires so often, it is very important to find ways to spend time with your teens.  Get them away from friends, phones, and other distractions so that they can focus on the moment and find value in being with you.
  • Establish trust and keep it:  In order for a teen to trust you enough to talk to you about their emotions and experiences they must know you will respect them and their feelings. Talk to them in an open way providing guidance and suggestions and the realities of life but allow them their own opinions.  They will trust your advice more if it isn’t forced on them.  Remember they are just adults in training, treat them that way (Adams, 2013).
  • Allow them to make decisions:  Allowing teens the ability to decide for themselves will help to shape their ability to be competent adults.  You may disapprove or their clothing, hair style, or choice of employment, but these things can be easily changed as they learn more about life and themselves. 


  • Adams, T. S. (2013). Ten Tips for Talking with Teens. J CALIF DENT HYG ASSOC, 28, 12–34.
  • Crockett, L. J., Brown, J., Russell, S. T., & Shen, Y.-L. (2007). The Meaning of Good Parent-Child Relationships for Mexican American Adolescents. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 17(4), 639–668.
  • Moriarty, K. (2015, August 17). 10 Expert Tips You Didn’t Know About Getting Your Teenager to Open Up. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/get-your-teen-talk-dinner_n_7071438
  • Sillars, A., Koerner, A., & Fitzpatrick, M. A. (2005). Communication and Understanding in Parent–Adolescent Relationships. Human Communication Research, 31(1), 102–128. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2005.tb00866.x
  • Talking To Adolescents and Teens: Starting the Conversation. (n.d.). Mental Health America. Retrieved July 23, 2021, from https://mhanational.org/talking-adolescents-and-teens-starting-conversation