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Communicating With Teenagers

Mar 14, 2018 02:59PM ● By Don Short

My wife and I helped raise over thirty-five foster children and many of them were teenagers. We also adopted a six year old boy with severe ADHD and raised three children of our own. I was pleased that God had blessed us with three great children so that I could have more time to help the more needy children and teens. My wife and I even won a Foster Parents of the year award. It wasn’t long before two of my children asked me if they needed to be bad to get my attention. That was a wakeup call for me! I didn’t realize the extent I was neglecting my own children as I was frequently busy dealing with the problematic behavior of our adopted and foster children.

Sometimes, we as parents assume that the absence of problematic behavior means that everything is okay with the teen. I was so thankful my children brought this to my attention. From then on, I made every effort to spend time with them. I now understand the miscommunications and misunderstanding of teenagers. Also, I remember when my youngest son told me that he did not want me to be his Therapist or his Financial Adviser; he wanted me to be his dad. Sometimes we over incorporate our careers or our interests in the lives of our teens when all they want at times is for us just to be their mom and dad.

A survey was conducted with high school English students who were in the talented and gifted program. They were asked how they wished their families communicated with them. Their wishes fell into four categories.

1. Teens want you to be honest with them. 

The truth will come out sooner or later anyway, so let’s be honest with them. Sometimes, we as parents like to pretend that everything is okay when it is not. As we share our struggles with our teen, we are being truthful and are modeling for them how to navigate the struggles one may face in life.

2. Teens want to know that they are loved.

Love is communicated through our words and actions. Along with saying “I love you”, we can give them hugs and pat them on their back. We can make our homes a safe place where they can share their hearts and know they will not be judged or shamed. They need to know they are loved even when they don’t meet our expectations. Our love for them should never be contingent on their behavior.

3.  Teens want guidance.

They don’t want to be lectured. A brief response is usually adequate in that the teen already knows what they did wrong. Teens don’t want to be yelled at because this makes them want to fight back. If you’re angry or upset let the teen know so the situation can be addressed and corrected in a non-toxic and non-punitive way. Teach your teen how to set and maintain clear and healthy boundaries. In providing guidance we must remember that each teen is unique and our guidance must be tailored to their uniqueness. Be careful of unrealistic expectations.

4. Teens don’t want you to keep bringing up the past.

Parents should only deal with one issue at a time. Stop using words like “always” and “never” in describing the undesirable behavior in your teen. Stop the sarcasm because it is toxic to the relationship. Help your teen create a vision of their future.

Never stop talking to your teen. Enjoy them and their uniqueness. In our culture, we are pulled in many distractions. Families can become really busy and we also can become complacent when it comes to our teenagers. We have to remember that we are not only raising teenagers, but we are also raising future moms and dads. Try to develop healthy family traditions that they will cherish and pass on to their children.

Don Short is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and EMDR Therapist. His practice focuses on clients with marriage, relationship and family issues. To learn more contact 337-781-4565 or visit: