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  • Writer's pictureKatie Monts

From Eye-Rolls to Empathy: Keeping Conversations Going in the Teen Years

It has arrived. Your child is no longer a child. The teen years can be very…interesting, to say the least. Relationships, self-esteem, and identity all seem to in the blender, let alone the desire for independence that feels like a wedge between you and your once ‘little buddy’.

Perhaps the hardest part is that in their quest for independence,you see it clearly: they are not ready to be the adult and have the responsibilities they so badly desire (yet). When you push, though, it seems to only result in them retreating further away. What are you to do?

First, please know that the journey toward adulthood and the quest for separation from you is completely natural, even though it doesn’t always feel good and natural on your end. Learning how to make decisions on their own is a key developmental piece of the teenage years. Your role in supporting this endeavor can be daunting, but fostering an environment of open communication is key to helping your teen through these tumultuous years. After all, as the parent in the relationship, it’s your job to make the necessary changes to promote your teen’s journey. Read on for some communication tips to make the most of your interactions with your teen.

Reflect, don’t react

If your teen takes the risk to share something with you that is going on in their life, it’s important to keep your emotions in check first. Your teen is likely feeling their own whirlwind of confusing emotions they are trying to sort out themselves, and a strong negative reaction from you can diminish their confidence to approach you with other scenarios in the future.

Try, first, reflecting back in your own words the situation your teen is describing as you understand it, and ask them if you are correct. This will allow your teen to correct you where you may be misunderstanding or clarify what’s most important to them. This will 1) help your teen feel like you are really hearing themand 2) help promote communication skills with immediate feedback.

Name, don’t blame

As you reflect the scenario to check for understanding, help your teen by trying to identify the emotion they are feeling with respect to the subject. Again, allow them to correct you if you miss the mark.

A key piece to remember here is that there is no should in emotion, only behavior. Being mad, disappointed, frustrated, or sad is rarely the issue on its own. It is what we do with those emotions that matter. Offer understanding to your teen for how they feel, and hold a boundary only when necessary for behavior.

Ask, don’t assume

Once you and your teen have a working understanding of what is going on together, ask your teen what they need from you. This is where perhaps the greatest learning can happen: ask if your teen is just needing to vent about the scenario or if they’d like your input. This offers your teen the chance to take ownership of their actions and feel respected as a person. It also supports their process of making decisions while offering your help should they need it.

What if they don’t make the decision I think they should?

Also, normal! When your teen is faced with the consequences of their decisions, you have another chance to put all the above tips in play again. Reflect, name, and then ask your teen what alternative choices may be useful next time. Every scenario is a learning opportunity if you support it as such!

In the end, just be there

You’re not going to be the perfect parent through this. The teen years are another phase of hard that pass whether you want them to or not. Your presence and willingness to listen, above all else, is key to supporting your teen in their transition to adulthood.


If you feel like you are struggling in connecting with your teen OR you and your teen are navigating difficult terrain and need guidance with setting boundaries, the counselors at ETCG are ready to help. Give us a call today at 903-502-0490 or email us at to set an appointment to help get you and your teen headed in the right direction.

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