1. Teens
  2. Communicating & relationships
  3. Communicating

Teens communicating and relationships: overview

12-18 years

It’s true – relationships change during the teenage years. Although your child might want more privacy and more time with friends, family love and support are still very important. They help your child learn how to make responsible decisions and build caring relationships.

Relationships in the teen years

Family relationships change during adolescence, but they tend to stay strong right through these years. In fact, your child needs your family’s love and support as much as she did when she was younger.

At the same time, your child will want more privacy and more personal space as he gets older. This doesn’t necessarily mean your child has something to hide. It’s just a natural part of adolescence.

Children also need more responsibility as they grow towards young adulthood. How quickly you hand over responsibility to your child depends on many factors – your own comfort level, your family and cultural traditions, your child’s maturity and so on.

To learn how to make safe and responsible decisions for themselves, teenagers need your advice, support and monitoring. The best monitoring is low key, although there’ll be times when it’s OK for you to ask your child for specific information about where she’s going and who she’s with.

Trust is the key to finding a balance between your child’s need for privacy and responsibility and your need to know what’s going on. If you and your child trust each other and stay connected, he’ll be more likely to share what he’s up to, stick to the rules, and try to live up to your expectations.

Staying connected with your child

You can stay connected and build your relationship with your child by using unplanned, everyday interactions – a casual chat over the washing-up, for example. Or connecting can be planned – this is when you make special time to do things together that you both enjoy. Here are some ideas for planned and unplanned connecting:
  • regular family meals
  • fun family outings
  • one-on-one time with your child
  • family meetings to sort out problems
  • simple, kind things – a pat on the back, a hug, a knock on the door before entering.

Communicating with your child

Active listening can be a powerful tool to improve communication and build a positive relationship with your child. This is because active listening is a way of saying to your child, ‘Right now, you’re the most important thing to me’.

Here’s a quick guide to active listening:

  • Stop what you’re doing and give your child your full attention.
  • Look at your child while she’s talking to you.
  • Show interest, and show your child that you’re trying to understand.
  • Listen without interrupting, judging or correcting.
  • Concentrate hard on what your child is saying.

Negotiating and conflict management
Your child needs to learn about making decisions as part of his journey towards becoming an independent, responsible young adult. Negotiating can help your child learn to think through what he wants and needs, and communicate this in a reasonable way.

There’ll also be times when negotiating doesn’t work out, and you and your child disagree – this is normal. Dealing with conflict effectively can deepen and strengthen your relationship with your child in the end. It also helps your child learn some important life skills.

Difficult conversations
Sometimes you and your child might need to have difficult conversations. Sex, sexual orientation, masturbation, drugs, alcohol, academic difficulties, work and money are all topics that families can find difficult to talk about.

Tackling difficult conversations together is a sign that you and your child have a healthy relationship. It will help keep your relationship with your child close and trusting.

Here are some tips:

  • Try to stay calm.
  • Reassure your child that you do want to discuss the issue.
  • Let your child know you’re happy that she wants to talk to you.
  • If you need a bit of time to gather your thoughts, make a time to talk later on in the day.
  • Actively listen to your child.
  • Avoid being critical or judgmental, or getting emotional.
  • Thank your child for coming to you.
Video

Tricky conversations

3:27

Discussing tricky topics can be uncomfortable and sometimes happens unexpectedly. This short video demonstrates various ways that parents might handle tricky conversations with teenagers, by staying calm and really listening, and using these opportunities to help a teenager make responsible decisions.

Our Talking to Teens interactive guide explores some tricky parent and teenager situations. For example, you can see how different approaches to talking about a difficult issue can get different results.

Your child’s friendships 

As children enter adolescence, friends become increasingly important. Positive, accepting and supportive friendships help teenagers develop towards adulthood – and you can play an important role in helping your child manage peer relationships.

For example, just having a warm and caring relationship with your child can help your child with his own social relationships. And praising teenagers when you see them being fair, trusting and supportive of others encourages them to keep working on those positive social traits.

Getting to know your child’s friends shows your child you understand how important these friendships are. One way to do this is encouraging your child to have friends over and giving them a space in your home.

‘Frenemies’
Teenage friendships can sometimes turn ‘toxic’, and friends can turn into ‘frenemies’.

Instead of making your child feel good – like she belongs and is accepted – these friendships might involve subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) put-downs, manipulation, exclusion and other hurtful behaviour.

You can help your child avoid toxic friendships by talking with your child about what good friends are like – they’re the ones who look out for him, care about him, include him in activities and treat him with respect.

Teenage romantic relationships

Romantic relationships are a major developmental milestone for your child. But there isn’t a right age to start having relationships – every child is different, and every family will feel differently about this issue.

Younger teenagers usually hang out together in groups. They might meet up with someone special among friends, and then gradually spend more time with that person alone.

Talking with your child can help you get a sense of whether now is the right time for relationships. If your child is interested in romantic relationships, you and your child might need to talk about behaviour and ground rules, plus consequences for breaking the rules. You might also want to agree on some strategies for what your child should do if she feels unsafe or threatened. 

You can be a positive role model for your child in your own relationships and friendships by treating your partner, friends and family with care and respect. Just talking about both men and women respectfully lets your child know you think everyone’s equal and valuable.

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Last updated or reviewed
12-05-2015

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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