Communication Tips: Part 4

Communication Tips:  This is the fourth of a six part series on Communication

  1. When in Conflict
  2. Expressing Emotion
  3. Engaging your Partner
  4. Engaging your teen
  5. Establishing Boundaries
  6. Saying  sorry – accepting responsibility for your actions

Communication Tips Part Four: Engaging you’re Teen

Engagement of teenagers, well how can I describe this process?

Well it’s kind of like feeding a deer. You can stand still, look them in the eye and hope they come to you but if you make the slightest move in the wrong direction, BAM they run in the bush.

Although engagement can be a very difficult process at times, the result can be one of the most rewarding bonds you can have with your teen.

Three basic concepts of engaging your teen is suggested below:

#1 put your emotions in the trunk of your car.

Remember, engagement is not about you, it’s about you connecting with your teen. If you react, which is acting out your negative emotions of anger, frustration, upset, you will disconnect from the process of engagement.

You need to respond, that is being in control of your actions and words. Maintaining control.

Remember that:

Teens can be reactive with behaviour or words that can set you off. BUT remember, they need you despite what they may say or do. The need is for one of you to be calm and patient and that responsibility is yours.

#2 This process is not about tough love.

It’s about unconditional love with accountability and responsibility on the teen for what they say and/or do.

For example – If your teen acts out in a negative tone, word or behaviour, you need to settle them or provide them a safe place to settle. When they are ready, you then need to ask them what upset them and why. After a good discussion with them, you discuss the impact of what they did or said and any steps for them to be accountable for their actions.

#3 make sure you take care of yourself in the process. Do whatever it takes to debrief, vent, exercise, calm, read, prepare, scratch your head and maybe just sigh.


Engagement of a teen is a potentially challenging, confusing, often painful but when successful wonderful process.  It is a process without footing, handrails, lifelines or miracles. Sometimes we may want to be voted off the island when facing teen angst but believe me being away from them or distant from them is tougher than being with them.

I describe the engagement of teens like this:

“Engaging teens is like huggin a porcupine”

What I mean by this is that sometimes they are receptive and the quills are down while other times they are not receptive and the quills are up. Timing is important but your approach is most important.

So fundamentally to engage a teen you must first understand what you are dealing with.

The teen years, oh what a wonderful time.


No pressure right?

Nothing to worry about or be responsible for correct?

If you answered yes to these questions, well you obviously do not remember your teen years now do you?

Their reality:

  • Uncertainty
  • Pressure to fit in.
  • Self esteem
  • Need for independence without an understanding of the world
  • Emotional confusion
  • Pressure to succeed
  • Conflict
  • Academic pressure
  • Choice of career pressure
  • Physical and emotional changes
  • Disrespect from some adults
  • Misunderstanding from some adults
  • Relationship confusion
  • Bullying
  • Sexual pressure
  • Sexual identity
  • Alcohol/drug influences

Need I go on?

Now before you try to begin understanding your teen, try understanding yourself. This is tough folks but needed to really engage this process. Be honest with yourself in learning about yourself and it will help tremendously.

  • How do you handle conflict?
  • How do you express anger and upset?
  • Are you a teacher/guide or controller?
  • Do you want them to be what you want them to be or encourage them to choose something they are really energized about?
  • Are you patient?
  • Do you value their opinion on issues and life or minimize them?

Some examples to clarify are found below:

  • If you have taught your child to be the best at whatever they do but have not taught them to do their best at whatever they do, do not question why they, as teenagers, suffer from a sense of failure, anxiety, stress in not achieving the best all of the time. I call this purgatory by perfection. It’s a curse folks.
  • If you have made all decisions for your child without room for choice and individuality, do not question why they, as teens, suffer from confidence in making decisions for themselves.
  • If you have taught your child that anger is communicated by yelling and blaming, do not question why they, as teenagers, yell and blame you and others.
  • If you have taught your child that their value is measured in how they are viewed by the outside world, do not question why they, as teenagers, suffer from low self view, body image issues and victimization.
  • Do you or have you’re reacted or responded to them? Reacting is emotionally based while responding is from a combination of thinking and feeling. Again if you taught your child to react then do not question why they as teenagers react.
  • So in reflection, know the learning ground for your child as they will apply what they have learned as a child through their teen years.

The truth of the matter:

Teens are wonderful, sensitive and amazing people. They are full of energy, questions, challenges, objections, problems, opinions and emotions. They all display an array of issues and concerns in their navigation through the teen years.  In order to navigate successfully and in a healthy way, they need guidance and unconditional love with room for independence and choices. It is a difficult balance for some teens as the need for independence is often shut down by conflict with their parents due to often scary and concerning issues – drugs, alcohol, sexuality, responsibility etc.

What I have learned from teenagers in my professional and personal life is what lies in them.  Teens have an openness to input, opinion, guidance even structure. They accept this from positive and influential people in their lives – teacher, coach, parent of a friend. What lowers their walls to allow such openness? It is no secret folks, it

is engagement built on respect, caring, and openness to understanding them.

So how do we, as parents, get to this understanding?

  • Make time for them to talk about things. Do not rush them or let them feel like you are distracted.
  • Meet with them on their turf – that is where they are most comfortable – their room, in the car, on a walk.
  • Tell them that you are interested and really want to understand them.
  • Listen without judgment or interruption.
  • Listen with empathy and respect no matter how or what comes out.
  • Listen to the issue and the feelings they have on the issue.
  • Listen for the depth of thought on the issue or concern.
  • Listen for what they need from you.

Once you have engaged them by listening, ask what they want from you for example do they want input, guidance, your opinion or total agreement with them?

When what they want is established and you have listened to them, you can provide your understanding and position on the issue.

Remember your listening will communicate respect and love for them. It has opened them up to your position as no conflict has derailed the process.

The challenge is not surrendering to your need to tell them what is what, that they are wrong, that you are in disagreement, that their ideas are way outside your comfort zone. You have to let them exhaust their ideas and only then do you communicate your concerns.

Remember – listen first and respond last

Contentious issues: What to say and do.

As parents, we have all faced those issues that are going to be difficult and often lead to conflict.

The big ones I call them – drugs, sexuality, alcohol, relationships, self abuse, academics, responsibilities and friends.

To engage your teen on such issues you may want to attempt the following statements:

  • We may not agree but I want to understand you.
  • What you think is important to me.
  • I am scared for you and we need to talk about how you are going to be safe.
  • I don’t agree with what you are doing and there are going to be some issues for us but we need to talk about it more.
  • There are going to be some things that I am not going to budge on even though we have talked. It is because of my concern, feeling that your decision is not a good one.
  • You need to convince me that you are :
  1. Making the right decision
  2. Going to be safe
  3. Have thought about everything on this
  4. Have taken into consideration that what you want may not be what is best for you.

Know that your best attempts at engaging will not always work. So try to disengage if you feel the situation is going badly:

  • I don’t want to fight with you on this.
  • I think we are getting nowhere on this so let’s break and talk about it tomorrow.
  • I am really getting upset and need to walk away right now.
  • This is not working today let’s try tomorrow.
  • I’m sorry we are fighting let’s stop please.
  • Let’s take a break, neither of us is listening.

Despite what they say, teenagers need you on their side and that means love them, guide them, teach them, make them accountable, push them positively to meet their potential, engage them in a way that tells them no matter what we will get through this.

Know this about your teen:

  • They do not want to argue and fight.
  • They do not want to be separated from you.
  • They do not want you out of their lives.
  • You are the adult, you are their stability, and you are the one to unconditionally love them.
  • Tough love does not work, unconditional love with structure, patience, and follow through works.

Steps to engage successfully:

  • Listen – the key to engaging them. Despite what you hear listen to them fully and completely. Do not overtake them by teaching too early, taking control or telling them about your life. Listen first and talk last.
  • Validate them in how they are feeling. This does not mean you are agreeing with them or giving them permission to do anything, it means you show them you see how they are feeling in what they are facing.
  • Discipline last.  That is after the emotions are settled or calm. Discuss what happened, what they were thinking, what they wanted or did not want, how they see their responsibility in the situation, again listen. Then after all is said, you can discuss with them how you see the situation and what structure you need to impose and why.
  • When they ask why? – Answer them with detail do not say “because I said so or I am the adult.”
  •  Don’t blindly say “respect adults” as their reality is that some adults do not respect them. Teach them how to positively confront adults in their world.
  • Give them a voice, do not shut them down.
  • Say sorry for things you have done or not done.
  • Admit when you do not know what to do.
  • Love them no matter what.  Not more to say here folks. Make sure in any situation they know you love them unconditionally. “I don’t agree or like what you have done but I love you.”
  • Parental Disclaimer: Any aggression or violence, self abuse or suicidal ideation/behaviour needs to be addressed and so despite their objection you need to obtain assistance from emergency personnel. Your safety and theirs is primary.

So I hope that this tip will help you engage you’re teen with positivity, love, understanding and patience.

Teenagers are wonderful and complex, reactive and understanding, naïve and insightful, strong willed and unsure.

They are your children growing up in a difficult world and despite what you hear from them, they need you every step of the way.

So hold on, take a breath and hug your porcupine, hopefully with their quills down.

Related Posts

Communication Tips: Part 6

Saying Sorry: We all have done or said things that upset or hurt the ones we love and care about. That is part of being human, that part of us that reacts to the inner drive to defend, hurt, push away, surrender to anger or get even with the ones we love.

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Communication Tips: Part 5

Boundaries are an interesting thing. I am often asked what a boundary is and how do you set them?
Well if we really look, boundaries are all around us:

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Communication Tips: Part 3

Engagement is an interesting thing. It can mean something as simple as how was your day or as much as you are everything to me. Engagement is a vital process between couples that maintains the importance of each other in their lives together.

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Communication Tips: Part 2

How many times have you skipped through your day with the energy of happiness? You know what I mean, saying hello to strangers, doing something nice for someone, singing in your car.

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Communication Tips: Part 1

When in Conflict:
As we all know, conflict is a part of life. It’s really everywhere – in our homes, at school or work, in social situations and interactions. Most people do not like conflict, in fact, many try to avoid it at all costs.

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