Talking with your Teen

A Changing Relationship

Your relationship with your child is probably different than it used to be. The natural changes your teen goes through during adolescence can be difficult for both of you, especially if your teen is trying to get some distance from you. As a parent, it's hard not to take this behavior personally. It can help to remember that these changes are part of growing up and affect all teens and their parents.

Here are some helpful reminders about the teen years:

  • Accept your teen's needs for more independence. It's normal for teens to want more independence. Recognize that your teen may be less willing to be involved in some family activities.
  • Respect your teen's need for privacy. Difficult as it may be, try not to pry but be open with your teen if you have safety concerns.
  • Expect your teen to test limits. Pushing limits is a normal part of asserting independence.

Pulling away from parents is part of growing up. Teens have unique developmental stages and need different things from you at different points in time.

The best tools you have to influence your child are open communication, honesty, and respect. Keep in mind that no matter how much your teen pulls away, he or she still needs your support and unconditional love.

Setting Limits and Making Agreements

Teens do best when they understand what is expected of them and have some say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Allow your teen to test, explore, and communicate within limits by staying firm and consistent. Establish realistic family rules, giving your teen more responsibility as he or she seems ready. Set clear limits and consequences if rules are broken.

Enlist your teen's ideas when you make agreements. Ask what he feels or thinks about the issue at hand.

Offer some choices within the limits you set. This is another way to show you respect your teen and ensure that agreements are realistic.

Provide structure and consistency. This helps your teen feel secure and helps him or her to know what to expect. Show respect and encourage follow-through when agreements are not fulfilled.

Keep it real. If rules are too rigid or unrealistic, you can expect your teen to resist. On some issues, you both may need to compromise. Find a solution that works for both of you.

Be willing to make exceptions to the agreements. While structure and consistency are important, use your judgment if an agreement needs to change slightly. 

Continue to clarify roles and responsibilities. Take the time to restate your role as a parent and his role as a teen. Be sure that the message of love comes through. 

Treat your teen with understanding, dignity, and respect. Being a good role model shows your teen how to be a mature adult.

Talking About Tough Topics

You play a big role in influencing your teen's behavior. Open communication is very important when talking about sensitive issues such as alcohol and drugs, sex, relationships, and responsibility.

Be honest and open when talking about your values, beliefs, and ideas. One approach is to say something like, "While you may decide to do something different, here is what I think." Keep in mind that helping your teen become an adult takes time, patience, and commitment. 

It can be easy to avoid having difficult conversations. The following tips can help make it easier to talk about tough topics:

Start talking early. Begin conversations on important topics even before your child becomes a teen. This will make it less awkward each time. Use your best judgment on when your child is ready to learn more about sensitive issues such as sexuality.

Start the conversations. Even if it feels difficult or awkward, your teen may be interested but too embarrassed to ask.

Communicate your values. Discuss your beliefs so your teen can use your values to develop his or her own set of beliefs.

Listen carefully and try not to judge. This will reduce confusion and help you understand what's truly on your teen's mind. Let your teen know that you are always available to talk no matter what the topic or the situation.

Keep talking and sharing information. Teens who have accurate information and know that they can go to a parent with questions or concerns may be less likely to participate in risky behaviors. Many Kaiser Permanente medical centers offer classes and support groups for parents of adolescents who are having trouble communicating with their teen. If needed, family counseling services are also available.

If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following:
(1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder.

This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.