talk to your teen

How to Talk to the Mature Side of Your Teen

(Inside: Are you struggling to talk to your teen? As we help our teens grow into maturity, we need to know this about how to communicate effectively.)

“All teenagers have two sides,” says Lisa Damour, a psychologist on adolescent development and family mental health. She goes on, “The side you speak to is usually the side that shows up for the conversation.”

One hundred percent.

One thousand percent.

This is exactly the place I’ve operated from (along with my colleagues) for more than two decades as a high school teacher. Lisa Damour is spot on. In working with adolescents, I’ve found students are like the word TEENAGE split in two.

There is the TEEN-side.

Young and fun.
Choosing shiny-social-media-worthy things over wise actions.
Goofy, goofy behaviors that leave you pulling out your hair and/or straight-up belly laughing because sometimes youjustgotta.

Then there’s the AGE-side.

The mature side where they think their age and beyond.

This side is very, very important because it’s who our big kids really are: all teens want to thrive. I see this daily in my high school classroom. Every single student wants to feel like they are capable, responsible, and worthy of trust. They want to be heard and respected. They long to be valued, appreciated, and loved. Yes, yes, yes, all times a million.

I’ve learned very quickly in trying to move my high schoolers towards maturity and independence (as they edge towards adult life that I want to send them off to with confidence), I need to communicate with the age-side of them. 

But, what do I mean by talking to the mature side of your teen? Let me give some real examples because I appreciate reality-talk over theory-talk.

For the teen not finishing their schoolwork…

Ask what’s interfering with their work completion. Don’t question if they want to do well in school (they do, a failing grade has never made anyone feel good), just move forward with working together to set up routines that work, including specific times to finish their responsibilities. Operate from the place that you know they want to thrive.

For the kid doing nothing around the house…

Ask about what they value about their family and home life. Talk about their strengths and what you appreciate about them. Then ask how they want to contribute. Don’t question if they should or should not do chores, help them choose responsibilities that will work and when they will get them done. Operate from the place that you know they want to thrive.

For the kid not coming out of his room…

Ask about why they want to stay in their room. Talk about how it’s healthy to be in community and that they are teens out there who need a friend just like them. Don’t question if they want friends (they do) and if they should get involved (it’ll be great for them), just work together to find groups for them to join. Operate from the place that you know they want to thrive.

Sometimes, just the talking works.

But other times, parents, we’ve got to take another step, and it’s not easy. Y’all, I got really caught up in the whole “talking is enough, consequences are mean” messages that were pounding parents hard in my corner of the world.

But, just no.

Nope. No way. That’s not reality, no matter how solid of a relationship you have with your teen.

Every action in the real world does have consequences. You’re late, it impacts people. You drop the ball, it impacts others. You act disrespectfully, it impacts others. From coworkers to roommates to friends to family.

In my classroom and in my home, if the talking doesn’t move kids toward maturity, we come from a different angle. We’ve already set up clear, healthy-agreed-upon expectations, so we add clear, logical consequences (usually screen time being taken away modeling work before you play). We agree beforehand what the outcome of not completing responsibilities, so we can take the emotion out of it. This has been such a game-changer. A few weeks of being consistent with routines and consequences (that’s the hard part!) often turn into healthier actions and happier kids.

Your family will have to figure out what works for you, and it won’t be perfect. Abandon that flawless-pressure with the same joy-of-release as skipping a pebble across the lake: things working, then not is normal and expected.

But, throughout your journey, remember…

Kids in the teenage years are dual-sided.

So, find humor when you can in the TEEN-side and talk to the AGE-side.

You WILL find some success in not questioning if your teen wants to thrive, just operating from a place of knowing they do.

Is your teen struggling with daily responsibilities? We were there too. We tried all sorts of things but then found a new way to communicate and that was our game-changer. Read more in the description here.

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Your brain bounces between your day at work, what time(s) your kids need to be at practice, your teen’s missing school assignments, that you haven’t called your mom lately, the load of the laundry to be switched, “What’s for dinner?” and “Why are 3 of my brain-tabs frozen?” 

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how to talk to your teen