How to talk to young people in a language they understand

How to talk to young people in a language they understand

Ever feel like you’re talking to your child in a different language? Then try using our action checklist – it might not teach you to be fluent in ‘teenager’, but it will definitely help you speak a language you can both understand.

The miscommunication minefield

How is it that you and your child fall out over the smallest things? Why do they take your well-intentioned comments the wrong way? Talking to young people can be a tricky business and miscommunication is common.

"We generally get on pretty well," says Anne, mum of 13-year-old Sarah. "But I sometimes find that if I'm distracted and not giving the conversation my full attention, that's when we start miscommunicating."

Talking in 'teenager'

Young people tend to be hypersensitive and may be suspicious of some of the things you say. Even a compliment or simple observation can be taken the wrong way, leaving you feeling like you can’t say anything right. Try not to take it personally, growing up can be tricky, and it can take time and patience to improve communication.

So how can you give a compliment your child genuinely appreciates? And how can you offer advice without it turning into an argument?

How to improve communication

Every relationship requires a special way of communicating. By being specific, signalling first and taking the time to talk, you'll help your child understand what you actually mean when you comment on their outfit or hairstyle, avoiding the miscommunication that can damage their body confidence.

Use our action checklist, and you should find that talking to your child gets much easier.

To protect privacy we've changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but their stories are genuine.

Here are some helpful strategies offered by cognitive researcher and psychologist Dr Nancy Etcoff:

  • 1

    Be specific

    It’s easy to misinterpret what someone says, so choose your words carefully. "If you are offering her a compliment, be as specific as you can so she doesn't misunderstand your true meaning."

  • 2

    Signal first

    If you want to offer criticism or guidance, signal it first to soften what you're saying, for example: "This might be something you won't like me saying, but I think it can come across as rude if you…"

  • 3

    Listen carefully

    If you're online or watching TV, stop what you're doing to show you care about the conversation. If it's something you can’t stop, like driving or dealing with another child, say, "I really want to talk about this properly. Can we continue later when I can give you my full attention?"

  • 4

    Take your time

    Next time your child flares up at something you say, think about exactly what it was – even write it down if you can remember. How specific were you? Was there too much room for interpretation? How could you phrase it better next time?

next steps

  • Share the The Parent Translator: a tool to tackle communication skills with them. It will help them understand you don't mean to upset them, when you talk about their friends, diet and social life, and may improve communication between you
  • Use the action checklist to start a conversation with your child about how you communicate. What annoys them about your conversations? Is there anything you can do to address their criticisms?
  • How does your child communicate with friends? Is there anything you can learn about how teenagers talk to each other?

Hello, what are you looking for?