Bridging the gap: the crucial role of communication between parents and teens through life’s transitions

How you assert your authority may need to be different when dealing with an authority-averse teen rather than an automatically respectful child. Picture: Supplied

How you assert your authority may need to be different when dealing with an authority-averse teen rather than an automatically respectful child. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 1, 2024


When it comes to teens, we tend to value meaningful conversations about important subjects, but being able to connect when it matters most is frequently dependent on the capacity to connect when it doesn't.

Sorting out the important concerns will depend on how you relate to them in your daily interactions.

We can get stuck in unproductive communication patterns - fighting, nagging, and criticising - that are difficult to break once established. Your teenager may still require your leadership and the boundaries that you establish and maintain but you may need to be more strategic to convey this message.

How you assert your authority may need to be different when dealing with an authority-averse teen rather than an automatically respectful child.

Transitioning into high school can present a significant shift for teenagers, seeing them face various academic, social, and emotional challenges.

Acknowledging these pressures, Desiree Hugo, Academic Head at ADvTECH Schools, emphasises the vital role parents play in supporting their adolescents during this transformative period.

Hugo notes that while teenagers may appear distant or moody, bridging the communication gap is key to helping them navigate high school and fostering their development.

She underscores how such effective communication can build trust, prevent misunderstandings and promote a positive relationship, benefiting teenagers in multiple aspects of their lives.

Discussing teenagers’ exposure to greater academic demands, social complexities, and decision-making pressures, Hugo highlights the emotional toll of these experiences.

She sheds light on potential challenges like bullying, peer pressure, and identity issues, urging parents to recognise and address their children’s well-being needs.

To facilitate effective communication, Hugo outlines practical guidelines for parents, including choosing the right time and place for discussions, using open-ended questions to encourage sharing, and employing active listening and positive feedback.

These communication skills are presented as a continuous process that, when consistently practised, can strengthen relationships and contribute to teenagers' growth.

“It is important for parents to understand their children’s well-being, and that they often feel isolated, misunderstood, or unsupported by their parents, who may not know how to deal with their emotional needs.”

The role of effective communication

Building an environment characterised by effective communication is essential for parents to help their teenagers cope with the challenges of high school and foster a positive and trusting relationship, says Hugo.

“Effective communication can help you and your teenager understand each other better avoid misunderstandings or conflicts and build trust and respect for each other’s perspectives and choices.

“You want to be the first person your teen contacts when they are facing difficult decisions and situations.”

Effective communication benefits your teenager’s academic, social, and emotional development. By communicating effectively, you can help your teenager:

  • Improve their
  • Develop their social skills.
  • Enhance their emotional skills and resilience.
  • Boost their self-esteem, self-confidence and self-identity.
  • Prevent or reduce their involvement in
  • Build trust in family relationships.

Guidelines for effective communication

According to Hugo, building effective communication skills is more like a marathon than a race, but both parents and children will benefit if they are aware of the benefits consistently.

She advises parents to consider the following:

  • Choose a good time and place to talk, when you and your teenager are both calm, relaxed, and free from distractions.
  • Use open-ended questions, such as “How was your day?” or “What are you interested in?” to invite your teenager to share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Use active listening skills, such as nodding, smiling, or paraphrasing, to show your interest and attention.
  • Use positive feedback, such as praise, appreciation, or encouragement, to acknowledge your teenager’s achievements and efforts.
  • Use “I” statements, such as “I feel” or “I think” to express your own thoughts and feelings, without blaming or accusing your teenager.
  • Use assertive communication, such as “I need” or “I want” to state your own needs and expectations, without being aggressive or passive.
  • Use compromise and negotiation, such as “Can we agree on?” or “Can we find a middle ground?” to resolve conflicts or disagreements, without imposing or giving in.
  • Use humour and fun, such as jokes, games, or activities, to lighten the mood and bond with your teenager.
  • Use empathy and compassion, such as “I understand” or “I care” to show your support and understanding for your teenager’s challenges and emotions.
  • Don’t underplay your teen's concerns by highlighting

“Effective communication is not a one-time event, but a continuous process that requires patience, practice and perseverance.

The more you communicate consistently and effectively with your teenager, the more you will strengthen your relationship and enhance your teenager’s social, academic and personal development journey,” explained Hugo.