Tips for tough talks with your teen

First, a reminder. My 10-week men’s counseling group began this past Monday. In the last week, two men realized that their professional conflicts make it impossible to attend the group and asked to delay until the next group. As a result,  I’m opening the group back-up for two men would like to explore with other men how to balance life stress, parenting and challenges with spouse/significant other. It is held at my Midtown Sacramento office. If you’re interested, please email me at I’d love to have you!

Over the last three days, three people in my personal and professional life shared concerns about not knowing the best ways to speak to others about difficult topics.  With this in-mind, I figure it time to post this one from the archives.

Tips for Tough Talks with your Teens-River City Counseling

You and your teen
Tips for tough talks with your teens
Pocket News Family Columnist

Again and again, parents tell me how frustrating it is to try to talk to their teens about their concerns. The words are barely out of their mouths when their teens respond by getting angry, rolling their eyes, and leaving the room. I’ll admit that talking with your teens about controversial topics is challenging, but I’ve found that keeping in mind a few tips can help parents feel better about the outcomes of these difficult conversations.

Consider the timing of your conversation. Parents often make the mistake of wanting to talk about their concerns immediately after an incident occurs, before they’re calm enough to talk things through effectively. I admit that it’s tempting to buy into the “there’s no time like the present” attitude and want to get the talk over with right then and there. However, it’s unrealistic when you catch your son sneaking back into the house at 4 a.m. to have a meaningful conversation before the sun comes up. Let him know in a calm voice that you are upset and want to talk, but you are going to take time to cool off and think about how you feel.

It’s then crucial to think about the specifics of what bothers you about his choice to sneak out. Go beyond focusing on your anger and what his consequences will be; instead, consider why it worries you that he snuck out. Then think about how you’ll communicate these concerns to him. Once your thoughts are clear and you feel calm, you’ll be prepared to talk.

Consider the setting for the conversation. Take all steps to speak in a neutral location, such as at the kitchen table or on the family room couch. If you call your son into your bedroom and have him sit in a chair while you stand up and talk down to him, you’re setting up your teen to get annoyed and begin fighting again.

When you start the conversation, be aware of your tone and volume. If you open the discussion by speaking calmly and softly, you’ll give the message that you are concerned (rather than furious) and want to talk (rather than fight).

It’s crucial to discuss both what he did and how it made you feel. Many parents resist talking about how worried they were when they found their teen wasn’t at home, because it leaves them feeling too vulnerable and breaks an unwritten rule about how to talk to kids when they’re “in trouble.” Trust me, your teen will respect you for going beyond being simply angry to sharing your concerns, and you’ll have a better outcome to the discussion.

Then, be prepared to really listen to your teen and try to understand why he made the choice he made. I’ve found that most parents have reached a conclusion as to why their adolescent did something and what the consequence should be, prior to beginning the conversation. Instead, have an open mind to what your teen says, and listen without interruption. If you’re unclear, be sure to ask questions until you are. Perhaps you’ll learn that your son snuck out to see a friend who’d been upset about his parents having a fight and needed to talk. Granted, sneaking out to see his friend is unacceptable and is worthy of consequences. However, knowing this might influence how you respond.

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