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Family Help: Talking to Teens

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

Advice from FACE ( Lead Facilitator Jane Keyworth

You love your teenager (most of the time) but do you find that when you try to say something helpful or reassuring to them it doesn't always go down well? Are you left feeling confused and sad that a lot of your conversations with them end in raised voices or bad feelings?

As a therapist, teacher and trainer, I have spent many years working with teenagers (as well as raising my own) and over the years I have learnt a wide range of techniques and interventions to improve my communication with young people.

Here are some tips to help overcome some commonly made mistakes and improve your chats with your teens.

Tip #1 - Their brain is under construction - lower your expectations!

Teenagers brains are undergoing a hugely disturbing brain development process called 'pruning'. This means that for their teenage years (especially for the younger teens) they will struggle in three main areas: self-control, decision making and social communication.

Tip #2 - Are they OK to speak to right now?

No-one feels like having a chat when they are tired, hungry or stressed. Try to reduce any physical or emotional discomfort before starting the chat, e.g. bring snacks and give a cuddle.

Tip #3 - The Righting Reflex

Taken from Motivational Interviewing (Miller & Rollick, 2012), the Righting Reflex is our desire to make things right. When we hear our teen speak about their problems or about something that has happened to them, we jump straight in and try to make suggestions to fix it for them. This will have a tendency to push them away from us. We need to listen more than speaking.

Tip #4 - Practice Active Listening

There are many ways of listening to someone, Active Listening, Reflective Listening and Affective Listening are extremely useful techniques to encourage positive verbal interaction. I can teach you how to do this.

“It takes two to speak truth—One to speak, and another to hear." (Henry David Thoreau)

Tip #5 - Ask the right questions

Asking good open questions can get your conversation off to a very positive start. Use opening words such as Tell, Explain and Describe, e.g. "Tell me what happened", Explain how you felt", "Describe what everyone was doing". Combined with questions beginning with How, What, Where can encourage a lot more speech compared to Do you? Will you? Can you? or Why? I can show you how to change your questions to get your teen to speak to you more.

Face Family Advice ( offers a range of online help for parents.

The Let's FACE sessions help parents to improve their communication skills, understand the underlying biology of their children's' emotions and respond more effectively to challenging behaviour.

Come and join me online for live, interactive support. Online sessions (the Let's Face series) are group sessions but One-to-One support (Face2FACE) is also available.

Any questions? email Jane at

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