Communication: The link to healthy choices for teens

As a child ages and enters their teen years, parents may find it more difficult to talk to them about making healthy choices. This may be because children, at this age, are beginning to make their own decisions about what matters most to them, including choices that affect their health and well-being.

So, as a parent, how can you develop a pattern of communication to help your teenager realize that making healthy and safe decisions about their well-being, including recognizing and avoiding risky behaviors, eating healthy, exercising, and getting enough sleep, is important?

Intentionally create an environment that promotes trust and communication.

Plan to have regular check-ins with your child to discuss daily needs and how those needs can be met. Check-ins can address simple needs like who is picking your child up from school that day or taking them to practice. Those interactions can help create an environment in which your child feels comfortable approaching you, and your child’s feeling of safety may, then, lead to discussions around difficult topics and situations.

Spend quality family time together. Plan time for your family to have fun and enjoy each other – go for a hike, play board games, or plan a vacation together.

Create routines and rituals that emphasize your love, respect, acceptance, and support of one another. Participating in routines, rituals, and shared activities can generate conversations and offer you opportunities to use positive communication skills to encourage your child, promote family togetherness, and create memories.

Establish boundaries and guidelines that will help cultivate open discussions. Boundaries can help you and your child understand and learn positive communication skills. For example, you and your child can negotiate rules and expectations. However, let your child know that safety issues, like not being allowed to go for a run outside after dark, are not negotiable.

Use positive language to avoid being argumentative.

Use I-statements. I-statements help your child understand what you are feeling without making them feel judged. For example, “I am concerned about your health because you don’t eat anything until dinnertime.”

Be mindful of your non-verbal language.

Body language. Make sure your gestures, facial expressions, posture, and eye contact match what you are saying.

Paraverbal language. Consider the tone of your voice, the rate of the gestures, the words you say, and the amount of eye contact you use to help your child understand the true intention of what you are saying.

Actively listen to your child.

Be present and limit distractions. Put down your phone, turn off the television, or stop doing the laundry, and give your child your undivided attention. Showing your teen that you care about them and what they say is important is a great way to promote the trust that is needed to create and maintain a positive parent-child relationship.

Listen with intention. Focus on the moment – don’t think about your response or other issues that may be occurring that day – and don’t assume you know what your child is going to say. Just listen.

Withhold judgment. When listening to your adolescent, do not make immediate judgments on their words or actions – listen to the whole story. Your child should feel that their thoughts and feelings are valid and deserve consideration.

Clarify what your child is saying by paraphrasing their words. When you’re communicating with your adolescent, sometimes what you mean and what your child hears are two different things. Or vice versa, sometimes what your child means and what you hear are two different things. Practice this skill with your child by clarifying what was said through repetition. For example, “What I hear you saying is you can’t get to bed on time because you have too much homework to do.”

Integrating these strategies and skills into your interactions with your child can help you build a respectful pattern of communication in your parent-child relationship. By doing this, you may find it easier to talk with your child about topics like making healthy and safe decisions. Remember, change doesn’t happen overnight. Continue to work on your communication strategies with your teen and practice them daily to help create and maintain open and positive communication in your parent-child relationship.

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