Parenting Adolescents Uncategorized — 30 January 2012
How to best talk to your teenagers

Most parents of adolescents are bewildered about how to deal with their teenagers. The way parents try to reason with their youngsters is usually ineffective and frustrating. Yet, there are ways to talk to your adolescent child that may reduce your discouragement and preserve your connection with your teenager.

The main communication problem between parents and adolescents stems from difficulties in transmission and reception styles. Parents use logical and sequential reasoning to dissuade their youngsters from their thoughts, feelings or actions, during a time that the youngster’s brain is unable to process these messages as delivered.

The Society for Neuroscience findings “indicate that important brain regions undergo refinement through adolescence and at least into a person’s twenties.” Also, “Areas involved in planning and decision-making and controlling impulses and emotions — appear not to have yet reached adult dimension during the early twenties. The brain’s reward center also is more active during adolescence than in adulthood, and the adolescent brain still is strengthening connections between its reasoning- and emotion-related regions.”

The use of alcohol or drugs also impacts communication between parents and teenagers. Another Neuroscience study found “that 70 percent of high school seniors used alcohol in the previous year. What’s more, the adolescent’s brain may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of drugs.” Parental disapproval distances the youngsters from their parents and supports the teenagers’ view of their parents as old, outdated and untrustworthy.

Instead of preaching, reasoning, explaining, documenting, trying to teach the youngsters lessons, use a new LAV approach: Listen, Ask and Validate the desire, creativity and nature of your teenager.


  1. Listen patiently and then validate the desire and creativity of whatever the teenager proposes, as preposterous as it may be. For example, a fifteen year old wants to convince you to supervise a beer party at home. Say, “I understand that this sounds like a logical and safe option to have fun.” Ask,” Are there any possible downsides to this plan?” “How would those be handled?” “What does the law say about this?” It may be a very long discussion but it may keep your youngster involved and stimulate his thinking and problem solving.
  2. Validate your teenager’s values. Say, “I admire your generosity and caring for your friends in wanting to give them a ride as soon as you got your driver’s permit.” Ask, “What does the driver’s manual, that you studied so carefully, say about that?
  3. Avoid using the word “But.” Ask and ask until some logic may connect.
  4. Abstain from lecturing about how things were different when you were young. It only widens the gap between you and your teenager.
  5. Say, “No” to the reasoning that your child offers, not to her “facts”. For example, “I am interested in learning about how drugs are beneficial and cause no harm. Please show me the scientific research.”
  6. Listening, Asking and Validating help communication and preserves the emotional connection between you and your adolescent.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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