You are here

How to speak your teen's language

a mother talking to her teen son
Posted April 11, 2019

‘If only I knew then what I know now!’ Every parent has uttered these words at some point along the journey of child-rearing.

While every parent has been a teenager, they haven’t been these teenagers. Elders still carry wisdom, but for the first time in history they do not hold all the knowledge. We may teach our child to use a spoon, but they will teach us to use bluetooth headphones.

Every generation comes with unique idosyncracies and challenges. It’s important to remember that these are not of their own making, but have been forged primarily by the generation preceeding them. In other words, like it or not, as parents and grandparents we are largely responsible for creating the world our teens are growing up in.

This is sobering when you’re trying to understand an attitude or opinion totally different from your own, and often embraced by an entire generation. ‘You just don’t understand me!’ has been the battle cry of every teenager.

Focus on how to communciate with your teenager, rather than what to communicate. How we communicate sets the tone for any encounter, and dramatically increases the chance of it being positive and fruitful. Often what we say is completely negated by how we say it. Conversely, what we have to say is more readily accepted when it’s communicated in a language that our teens understand.

Gary Chapman of The Five Love Languages fame, affirms that it is still parents who can influence teens the most, provided parents learn to speak their teen’s love language: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, acts of service, or gifts.

It can be as simple as asking them what makes them feel loved, and committing to showing them love in a way that is meaningful to them (not you).

‘Recently, my family sat around the dinner table trying to guess each others’ love language. The conversation quickly heated up as it became obvious some of us felt more loved than others—we had some serious love language barriers!’ says mum Cheryl.

‘Then a little miracle occured. The nature of our conversation completely changed as we were drawn into the shared discovery of each other’s love language. There were lots of tender exchanges as we listened and asked clarifying questons. Ideas and strategies for “speaking” in a language of love that made sense occupied the remainder of the meal.’

The key to communication for teens—like any child—is essentially knowing they are loved by you.

Tips for Talking to Your Teen

  • Have a conversation, rather than lecture. Conversation involves both people talking.
  • Don’t attack—if your teens feels accused, they’ll be on the defensive.
  • Show respect for your teen’s opinions. Make it clear you are hearing their point of view.
  • Keep it short and simple. Follow the ‘50 precent rule’: Say 50 percent less than you think you need to—so you don’t frustrate your teen.
  • Be yourself. Be authentic.
  • Seize the moment—such as a spontaneous conversation in the car. Look out for those opportunities to talk.

(c) 'War Cry' magazine, 6 April 2019, p10- You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.