Tips for Effective Communication with Teens

Parents who text have an advantage; but it should not be the only communication option.  Photo by Jean Darvey
Parents who text have an advantage; but it should not be the only communication option. Photo by Jean Darvey | Source

If adults want to engage in effective communication with teens, it helps to recognize and remove the barriers which create misunderstanding.

The thought patterns of adults and teens are basically different. This dilemma and the strategy to overcome it deserve the attention of teachers, mentors, parents and all adults who aim to affect teens positively.


Examples of Differences in Adult and Teen Thinking

Here are some basic differences in the way adults and teens think:

  • Adults have much to say; teens want so much for adults to listen.
  • We want to preach; they want us to teach—by our example and our personal stories.
  • Adults constantly tell teens what not to do; teens constantly ask adults what to do.
  • We want teens to say now where they will be later; teens want to text later when they’re on their way.
  • Adults try to discover what’s wrong with teens; teens try to prove what’s not right with adults.
  • Adults give presents to prove that they care; teens accept presence as proof that adults care.


Mother and teen daughter walking and talking.  Photo by Funkdooby
Mother and teen daughter walking and talking. Photo by Funkdooby | Source

Scientific Reasons for Those Differences

Since 2002, the findings of a study1 revealed some differences between the workings of adult and teenage brains--differences which directly contribute to the difficulty of effective communication. The research* is the work of Dr. Deborah Yurgelin-Todd, director of neuropsychology and cognitive neuroimaging at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Adult and teenage volunteers were put through an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to discover how their brains would respond to a series of pictures. The significant difference in responses from adults and teens led to the following findings among others:

  • Most of the times, teenagers do not correctly identify adult emotions (feeling) by the expression on their faces.
  • Consequently, teens misinterpret what the adults are feeling and their responses will be different from what the adults expect.
  • The frontal part of the brain--the part associated with thinking, planning, judgement and insight--is not fully developed in teenagers. The teen brain responds to emotional information with more of an impulsive gut reaction than a well-thought out decision. This explains why they do not always think of the consequences to their actions.

Dr. Jay Giedd2 at the National Institute of Mental Health adds that the part of the brain associated with muscle coordination--the cerebellum--also affects cognitive processes. The cerebellum is not fully developed in teens; so just like they can be physically clumsy, they can also be mentally clumsy. Dr. Giedd is concerned that the thumb may the only part of some teens' bodies that gets enough exercise, and that could be detrimental to their mental development.


Invigilators have to keep their distance; but facilitators can hug,  Photo by John Crosby
Invigilators have to keep their distance; but facilitators can hug, Photo by John Crosby | Source

Effective Strategy: Facilitate versus Invigilate

We realize now that the mental incapability of teens is natural and not always willful. We need an effective communication strategy that helps them develop with the least amount of friction between us and them.

Imagine a group of students in an exam room.

An invigilator is appointed to “keep watch”3 and his main objective is to prevent cheating. He helps them settle in—find their seats, get pencils and whatever props they need—but he does not offer help with the test itself; neither does he allow anyone else to help. He enforces the do-it-yourself laws, so the students pass or fail on their own. Some teens see their parents and teachers as invigilators whose only task is to keep them straight.

Instead they want a facilitator—“who helps to bring about an outcome by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision.”4 The facilitator encourages individuality and independence, but he helps.

An effective strategy for parents with teens is to facilitate versus invigilate.


Explore the most effective ways to communicate

Remember: Talk Don't Lecture

"Almost every parent says at least 50% more than he or she should. Shut up. Remember when you were a teen and your parents lectured at you? And you thought, 'Will you please stop; I already got the point!' Stop before your teen gets there."

- Carol Maxym, PhD, Counselor

Ten Communication Tips for the Parent Facilitator

Effective communication tips for the parent facilitator include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Be teen friendly. Give up the notion that teens are nothing but trouble; keep before them the vision of productive, responsible, respectful adults that you are helping them to become.
  2. Be firm. Uphold rules of honesty, obedience, cooperation and respect. These rules remain no matter how many times they are broken.
  3. Be curious.5 This does not mean probing. Be curious in an admiring kind of way which lets them know that you are really interested to discover their confusion (don’t say that word to them) so that you can understand them better.
  4. Be available. Accept the responsibility of keeping the communication window open; spend time to answer their questions and listen to their concerns.
  5. Be honest. Teens love honesty in adults. Admit that you’re stumped when you do not have the answer; admit disappointment when their conduct is unexpected and unacceptable; admit that you are learning in the process of helping. Honesty helps to win their confidence.
  6. Be kind. They do not always want to talk when you think they should. Remember that they do not always understand how or what you feel, so their actions will not always match your expectations. Be patient, understand and forgiving. The expression of thanks will come later.
  7. Be practical. Texting is the teen’s favorite mode of communication. Parents who learn to text have an advantage, but it is not the only option. Also encourage handwritten notes; initiate what you want them to imitate.
  8. Be affectionate. Invigilators have to keep their distance; but facilitators can hug, give a pat on the back or a shoulder rub. Teens are very human and they want to feel loved. Sometimes they feel what they may not hear.
  9. Be progressive. There is no graduating from the classes of parenting or communication. Keep learning from any source you can, including the teens themselves.
  10. Persevere: Never let teens hear you say that you are too tired or that you lack the ability to continue communication with them. Perseverance makes a better teen and a better you.


References

1. PBS Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain, Interview Deborah Yurgelin-Todd (January 31,2002).

2. PBS Frontline: Inside the Teenage Brain, Interview Jay Giedd (January 31, 2002)

3, 4. Merriam-Webster Online: invigilate and facilitator (© 2014 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated)

5. Crabb, Larry: SoulCare Foundations 101: The Basic Model, A Roadmap for Entering the Soul without Getting Lost (©2014 ChristianCourses)

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51 comments

Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

I don't think you missed a thing Dora. Great advice!


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Excellent information, Dora. Bev has a 17 yr old still with us, and then we'll be done with the teen work for this lifetime. :)


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States

I loved this hub. I have a real nice texting relationship with my children and my teenage grandchildren. It's a great communication tool for all of us. I've noticed that if someone feels funny saying something in person, it is much easier said in text. Well, not everyone, but a lot of people. Voted up.


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 2 years ago from Shelton

Msdora this should be required reading for parents with teenage children voted useful.. clever and appropriate Frank


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

It is such a challenging age. These are good tips to stay connected. I find that if I can just keep mine talking and stay present, we do well.


Purpose Embraced profile image

Purpose Embraced 2 years ago from Jamaica

Thanks for the great tips MsDora. I like the idea of a parent being a facilitators who empowers kids over being an invigilator. You give good practical advice, for example, parents learning to text.


thefedorows profile image

thefedorows 2 years ago from the Midwest

Ms. Dora, this is very well-written! I am working with a pre-teen and found your insight very helpful. I think teens, like people of all ages, want to be heard and understood. The study you included was interesting--brings to light the scientific side of the differences in our brains!


rdsparrowriter profile image

rdsparrowriter 2 years ago

I find this hub interesting and you seems to have described the qualities of my mom as the way she handles us, specially my sis. Nice :)


sheilamyers 2 years ago

This is some very good information. Although I'm not around a lot of teenagers, I'll have to keep all of this in mind for the times I am. I do have a question for you? Did you find any information about a more exact age group? The reason I'm asking is because during the summer we get temps working with us who are in their very early 20s and many of the the things you mentioned seemed like it may also apply to them.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Wonderful hub. From being a dad of 3 teenagers, coach and youth pastor I can tell you that you are spot on --- and into early twenties and down to "tweens".

"shut up" was a dirty word in my childhood home. But it was the best advice I ever got in communicating with teens.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Hi all, I contracted the Chikungunya virus which affects the joints among other things. I am feeling a little better but it was very difficult to type since my finger joints were so painful. Just explaining why I have not responded before. Thanks for your patience. I am making the effort now.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Jackie, thank you. I have a mentoring assignment with teens this summer, so all this is part of my preparation.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Bill, I'm sure that you and Bev are doing a great job. Enjoy the few years of teen parenting you have left.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Rachel, you are right on target with your texting. The kids love and respect you for participating in their world.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Frank, I think so too; hope to influence some at least. Thanks for your kind comment.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Flourish, I agree with you. Communication by any means. Thank you for sharing.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Doc, I'm glad you validate the parent facilitator versus the parent invigilator. I appreciate your input.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks, Fedorows. All the best with your pre-teen project. I appreciate your feedback.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Rdparrowwriter, you are blessed to have such a wise mom. Thank you for sharing.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Now Darling listen up:

Chrysanthemum and Turmeric tea. Get yourself some fun natural black licorice and fix a hot soup or your choice but add as much Cayene as you can. And top all that off with some healthy chocolate.

(dump some flax-seed and some ginger in the soup and tea.)

This will relieve most the pain and possible swelling. They get a variety of this from Asia and my 101 year old grandma taught me the remedy.

Now if you can or choose eat a healthy dose of red meat with this and drink a bunch of fluid - preferably with vitamin C. (the side effect is what would be obvious - diarrhea so stay hydrated.)

That is all from Doc Dierker.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Sheila, the PBS Frontline site linked in my references, mentioned differences between male and female teens, but I do not recall any work with exact ages. Given that they do not develop at the same rate, I'm sure that these findings apply to some older young adults as well. Thanks for your interest.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Eric, thanks for validating what I just mentioned to Sheila, that the findings apply to older youth as well. I know about the "shut up" phrase, but then they tell us that it discourages communication--different age, different concepts.

I appreciate the remedy. I'll try as much of it as I can accept the red meat. Thanks Doc, to you and your precious Grandma.


Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Oh dear --- the shut up is for me not the kids!!! ;-)


DDE profile image

DDE 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

I have observed teens and have noticed their behaviors. Informative and a well-advised hub.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Got you, Eric. Thanks again.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thanks, Devika. Appreciate your kind comment.


grand old lady profile image

grand old lady 2 years ago from Philippines

Wish I read this when my daughter was still a teen. Great advice, Ms. Dora.


Doris Dancy profile image

Doris Dancy 2 years ago from Yorktown, Virginia

There is so much excellent information and good advice in this article. It has always been easy for me to get along well with teens (don't ask me how) and the things that you say here are so true. Thanks for sharing and helping us all learn a little more with each opportunity.


tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 2 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

This is excellent information for everyone, but ideal for parents and people who are working closely with teens. If we as adults, try to remember the difficulties of our own teenage years, we would be less disapproving and more understanding.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Mona, most of us continue to learn parenting after our kids have become adults. We can still do what we can to influence them, their children, and other children whom God puts in our path. Thanks for your comment.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Doris, thank you for your input. Part of our responsibility as mature women is the to teach the younger ones. Do your best!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Jo, you hit the nail right on the head. These teens are no more difficult than we were. Thanks for your input.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Wonderful insight and advice here, MsDora. Those who know how to talk to teenagers possess a great gift, and I think the teenagers have a lot more respect for you when you tell them the truth, as that is always best and they know they are loved and you take the time to really listen to what they are saying and actually interested with all that is going on in their lives. I remember the teenage years and we survived ... I hope I am still around when my grandchildren are teenagers. The teenage years are confusing years as their hormones are raging and they do not know whether they are still children or turning into an adult, as they are really both. I would not want to go back to being a teenager for nothing in this world.

Up and more and away

Blessings always


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

I'm with you Faith. I'm not jealous of those in their teens, either. Thank you for your valuable input.


ologsinquito profile image

ologsinquito 2 years ago from USA

Keeping the lines of communication open are so important. I think if you spend a lot of time with your child, before the teenage years, they don't mind spending time with you as they get into their teens. These teen years are not always easy.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Ologsinquito, you make a great point about spending time together before the teen years. Thanks for your valuable input.


mothersofnations profile image

mothersofnations 2 years ago

Absolutely perfect. Well written. While I haven't fallen too short of these suggestions, the information about the differences in the brain regarding thinking patterns, etc. will help me abundantly (being that I'm a mother of which 2 are teens.) So glad you've written on this subject - this will help so many others - a must "share" with friends! :)


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 2 years ago from Germany

Thanks for the advice MsDora. I have a lot of teenage nieces and nephews and I love talking to them. I enjoyed having conversation with them that sometimes they think I´m weird. Have a nice day!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Mothers, I'm glad that you find the article useful. Thanks for reading and sharing.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thelma, I bet they love you and your conversations no matter how weird.

Thank you for sharing.


denise.w.anderson profile image

denise.w.anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

Teens are people, just like we are, and the sooner we realize that they need us, and we need them, the sooner we will come to a working relationship. I found that our teens were very open in wanting to discuss possibilities, how things work, and the problems in the world, than I was at that age. We were able to enjoy our time together, once we accepted our differences, and accepted each other for who we were and what we needed in life.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Denise, thanks for being such a wonderful example of good teen parenting. Thank you for sharing.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I find being kind and honest works well with most teens. As adults we often forget to treat them with respect. As role models, this attitude will go a long way in building a good relationship. Blessings.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Teaches, I totally agree. "Initiate what you want them to imitate." It works.


swilliams profile image

swilliams 2 years ago from Arizona

This is a great Hub Ms. Dora. Teens can be difficult to deal with, however they are looking for their own way in this vast world. The information that you provided. Giving an outlook on how teens view the world. Voted up & tweeted out!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Thank you, Emunah. The teens need our support and we need their interaction. We can make life a bit easier for each other.


Janellegems profile image

Janellegems 2 years ago from Virginia

Excellent advice to understand, communicate and connect with teens. Thanks for showing the difference between adults and teens. Very valuable information. Voted up!!!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Janelle, thanks for your comment. It is so important to try to understand the teens; every little bit of information helps.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 2 years ago from The Caribbean Author

Janelle, thanks for your comment. It is so important to try to understand the teens; every little bit of information helps.


Charito1962 profile image

Charito1962 14 months ago from Manila, Philippines

I love this hub, Ms. Dora! Your advice to us parents is most practical and valuable.

My son is now 19, and I agree that the best way to connect with teens is to be their friend. Even when my son was a child - and with my husband now dead - I made sure to know his interests/talents, and I helped him develop these simply by listening to him. I'm glad he is now an achiever.

Thank you, too, for sharing about the differences between the workings of the adult and teenage brains. It's an interesting note.


MsDora profile image

MsDora 14 months ago from The Caribbean Author

Charito, so happy that you find this article helpful. Best to you and your son going forward. Your task is somewhat harder with your husband gone, but be courageous and do the best you can.

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