Strategies for Communicating with Teenagers

. September 4, 2019.
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Accepting that Your 15-year-old is no longer 5

I have worked with babies, toddlers in preschoolers in childcare centers for years. I also teach early childhood education courses at the college level. I’ve recently started seeing more high school students in my college courses, through a dual enrollment program. I quickly saw that communicating with teens requires a different skill set than what I was used to when working with small children and adults.

Here are some strategies I have found effective in communicating with teens.

Get 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 younger 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 send their defensive walls up. I speak to the teens in my college class in the same manner as the adults and then bring it down a notch if I see it is warranted.

Ask them to repeat back the information back to you.

The high school students in my classes were forever asking me the same questions over and over again. I started asking them to repeat the info back to me. I also told them to write it down. This reduced the repeat 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 with their electronics in their hands! I’ve had to softly put my hand on a student’s arm many times 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I had a student who was extremely withdrawn.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. Then I brought up one of my favorite authors in class. She told me after class that she had read one of his books and asked for a suggestion of which one to read next. She started opening up in class after that. Sometimes it just takes finding something in common to open the lines of communication.

A few other tidbits I’ve picked up:

  • Sometimes they 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 they can turn to when talking to you is just out of the question for them.
  • 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 how. In fact, ask your child for help! Then start texting them daily.
  • They want to have strong relationships with their parents. I’ve heard teens express jealousy of another students close relationship with a parent numerous times. Hopefully these tips will help you both have a stronger bond.

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