Conversation, not confrontation: how can parents and teenagers learn to talk to each other?

Conversation, not confrontation: how can parents and teenagers learn to talk to each other?

Parents and teenagers need to be able to talk together.  Yet in so many families this turns out to be a major problem.    Parents feel the teenager won’t listen, and teenagers feel exactly the same: that their parents aren’t listening. One 14 year-old girl put it like this: “My parents expect me to tell them everything, but how can I when all they do is nag?  Why haven’t you done this? Why haven’t you done that?  That’s all they say.” Why does this breakdown in communication occur? Parents have the sense that the young person really prefers to talk to their friends.  They feel that they, the parents, do not matter anymore.  They feel rejected and pushed aside.  They feel that the young person no longer has any respect for their opinions, and this is hard to take. On the other hand the teenager feels that he or she is still being treated as a child.  The parent does not want a conversation, but only wants to dig for information or tell the young person what to do. It is not surprising that these misunderstandings lead to a situation where both sides feel irritated and frustrated with each other. What can we do about this? I have recently written a book entitled: “Why won’t my teenager talk to me?”   When I mentioned the title to a group of parents, one of them asked:  “Well, what’s the answer then?” Of course there are many different answers, but here are some thoughts.
  • Timing is critical. Your teenager won’t always talk at the time that is best for you;
  • Your teenager won’t talk about the things he or she considers to be private;
  • Interrogation doesn’t work. Your teenager won’t talk if he or she thinks conversation is going to turn into interrogation;
  • Your teenager won’t talk if he or she feels you are busy, distracted or likely to be interrupted.
All these are reasons why a young person might not talk, yet teenagers do want to talk to their parents.   How can parents and teenagers learn to talk to each other?   Here are some top tips for parents. First, parents of teenagers do matter.  You matter hugely, it is just that you have a different role from the one you had during the early years.  Parents matter because they provide the endorsement, the love and the structure that makes a young person feel safe and secure.   Without this the teenager will be lost. Secondly, teenagers do want to talk to their parents.   They want to talk, and they will talk, but in a way that feels safe to them.  This means the adult talking in a manner that makes the young person feel their views are respected.   Good communication has to be a two-way street.  Talking and listening go hand in hand. Thirdly teenagers do need some privacy.   They need space and time to sort things out in their own minds.  This means they will talk to their parents, but not necessarily at the precise time that suits the adult. In conclusion if you, as a parent, can step back and think about the needs of the teenager, communication will improve.  You have a key role to play.  If you can listen, your teenager will talk.  
Social media and teenagers, a practical approach

Social media and teenagers, a practical approach

Is social media damaging the mental health of young people? It’s important to look behind the headlines.

There is no doubt that today social media is seen by adults as representing a major threat to young people. There is much debate in the press and in public about the so-called “evils” of the digital world, and the Government has tasked medical experts with drawing up advice on the maximum amount of time young people should spend on social media. Parents and professionals worry about the time spent online, about the content that is seen by teenagers, and about the possible temptations that abound in the online world. Newspaper headlines such as ‘Social media fuels rise in self-harm’ (Evening Standard), and ‘Girls unhappy, stressed and addicted to web’ (The Times) are commonplace.

The striking thing is that this anxiety is not experienced in the same way by young people themselves. By and large they are aware of the risks in the online world, and believe that they are able to manage them. In my work with young people I ask them whether they see themselves as experiencing stress. They agree that the teenage years are a time of high stress, but not because of social media. The things they identify as stressful are tests, exams and pressure from school. They also talk about parental expectations, and sometimes pressure from friends. The digital world comes low down in their list of things that create stress and anxiety.


The STAGE framework: a new approach for parents of teenagers

The STAGE framework: a new approach for parents of teenagers

Yes, I get quite moody, quite a lot of the time. Like with parents and stuff, they say just do something, and I’d take it a bit too far, and like just storm out of the room, slamming doors.”
15 year-old girl.


Parents of teenagers need good quality information about young people and their development.

So what are the principles of effective parenting during the teenage years? In my view parents of teenagers need a simple framework which will help them understand the key principles of parenting during these years.

To help with this, I have proposed a framework which I have called the STAGE framework. This is described in my book “Why won’t my teenager talk to me?” (Routledge, 2018). I believe that the framework addresses the key questions for parents. The framework is grounded in current research, it reflects the concerns of parents today, it has the idea of a stage of development at its core, and it is easy to grasp.

I have called this framework STAGE for two reasons. Firstly I want to emphasise the point that the teenage years are a process, a time of change and development. Things will alter gradually over time, even though for parents this may seem at times an unlikely possibility. We do know, however, that the difficult stage, if it is difficult, will not last forever. The moody, uncommunicative 14 year-old will in time become a more mature and responsible young adult.

The second reason for calling the framework STAGE is that each letter stands for a key principle, and a different aspect of parenting. In addition, of course, it makes the ideas behind the framework easy to remember. The five elements represented by the five letters are not the only elements of parenting, but they are five elements which are at the core of relationships between parent and teenager.

Here are the five elements of STAGE:

stands for the significance of parents

Parents of teenagers are the most significant people in the life of the young person. Parents may think they are not important any more, but their role is absolutely crucial. Parents of teenagers matter just as much as parents of younger children, they just matter in a different way. If there is one message above all that we want parents to take away from any programme or information sharing, it is that they do have a role. Parents of teenagers matter!

T stands for two-way communication

Communication between parent and teenager should be a two-way process, with talking and listening going hand-in-hand. Parents may think they are the ones who need to do the talking, but listening is just as important. Teenagers have as much influence as adults on how communication works. Parents will find that a teenager is more prepared to listen to them if they can show they are willing to hear the young person’s point of view.

A stands for authority

One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is to know how to exercise parental authority. What boundaries and structures are needed for teenagers? Should punishments be used, and if so, what punishments make sense for teenagers? How is it possible to retain parental authority, whilst letting go at the same time? It is here that a full consideration of authoritative parenting is essential.

G stands for generation gap

I include this concept because each generation of teenagers has a different set of challenges and pressures to deal with. It is easy for parents to assume that what was right for them will also be right for their children. However, things are very different today compared to thirty or forty years ago. As a result young people today have to make different choices from those made by their parent. Furthermore to highlight the generation gap also makes it possible to explore the idea that it is not just that things today are different for teenagers, they are different too for parents themselves.

E stands for emotion

Emotion plays a very important part in affecting relationships between parents and teenagers. Whether it is anxiety, anger, sadness, regret, envy or guilt, all these feelings influence how parents manage day-to-day life with their son or daughter. If parents can be aware of their feelings, and find ways of learning to deal with their emotions, this will help enormously in family relationships. Of course it is not just the parents’ emotions which make a difference. Teenagers too will be struggling with new and confusing feelings. If parents can gain some understanding of this aspect of development, recognising how their feelings interact with those of their teenager, this will be a big step forward.


This is a very brief introduction to the ideas behind the framework. STAGE matters because it does link core themes with new knowledge about adolescent development. In addition it underlines the fundamental principle that adolescence is a process of change and development. This offers parents a sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel, whilst emphasising their key role in assisting the young person adjust to the changes that are taking place.

I will say a brief word about the title of my book. Why did I call the book: “Why won’t my teenager talk to me?” Although the principles of STAGE are all equally important, being able to talk does hold the key. In all my experience of running workshops for parents of teenagers, the topic of greatest concern has to do with a failure of communication. The change between the chatty 10 year-old and the grunting 13 or 14 year-old is something that parents find very hard to understand.

The central point is that teenagers do want to talk to their parents, but they want to talk in a way that feels safe to them. That means:

  • talking at a time that is right for them,
  • not having a sense that they are being interrogated,
  • being allowed some space to hold on to things that are felt to be private,
  • and most importantly, having their voices heard and their views listened to.

Of course lying behind problems of communication are many different issues. These include issues of power and control, the growing independence of the young person, and the interference to good communication that is caused by the difficult emotions that were mentioned earlier.

Nonetheless if only we can help parents understand some of the principles behind good communication we will do a lot to improve relationships between the generations. In addition of course, there remains the central objective: to assist parents to understand more about teenage development. STAGE should help with this. It offers a framework that parents can understand, as well as a set of principles based on highly respected research evidence.