Health Library: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ

Teens and Talk: What's a Parent to Do?

Even if you think you have a wonderful relationship with your child, when he or she becomes a teenager, communication may become a problem. A simple parent-child conversation often isn't simple anymore when the child turns into an adolescent.

When kids get to be teenagers, they think differently than children. There's a shift from concrete to abstract reasoning.

As kids move into adolescence, they no longer accept things just on face value. All of a sudden they have the capability of looking at things and evaluating them. So their parents can no longer rely on saying, "I love you and I'll tell you what to do—now do it." And unfortunately, the more rigid the parents are, the more likely it is that the kids will rebel.

In most cases this change in thinking process begins around the time a child turns age 12 or 13 and is complete by age 18 or 19. To communicate with your offspring during this phase, act as a consultant rather than a supervisor. Outline choices and consequences, rather than trying to command behavior.

Some tips for communication:

  • Pick a time when you're both in a good mood. Say you have some things to talk about and ask if this is a good time. If not, make an appointment.

  • Say you'd like to have a really good relationship, and ask for your child's thoughts on where things might be improved. Don't apologize, lay blame, or pick a fight. Just listen. Respond the way you might talk to a good neighbor. If you're not sure what to say, don't say anything. You can always revisit the issue in a day or two.

  • Set things up so that if the teen fails it doesn't become your problem. If your underachieving daughter wants to go to college, for instance, suggest that she earn the money for the first semester, then agree to pay her back with money she can use for the next term if she receives A's or B's.

  • Remember you can accept what a teen does without having to approve of it. The best message to give is, "I will love you no matter what you do."

The teen years are very stressful. Adolescents worry about everything—and their behavior may become more immature or unusual the more stressed they become. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, your teen may need additional outside support if you notice your child doing any of the following:

  • Feeling sad most of the time and losing interest in usual activities and friends

  • Not talking or making major changes in communication style

  • Changing school performance (for the worse), skipping school, or dropping out of school

  • Getting into trouble with the law

If you're worried about your teen, don't wait for things to get better on their own. Ask for help from your pediatrician, school counselor, or school principal.