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How to Encourage Teens to Develop Strong Communication Skills

  • Karen Whiting Contributing Writer
  • Updated May 07, 2019
How to Encourage Teens to Develop Strong Communication Skills

Communication is a key tool for developing lasting relationships, being successful in careers and social interactions, and bonding as a family.

Young people especially need to learn how to make authentic connections, and the only way to do that is by interacting with those around them.

Talk to teens you see at church, work, or in social settings. Engage them in conversation and model good communication.

Here are nine ways you can encourage the teens around you to develop good communication skills.

Photo Credit: GettyImages/Rawpixel

  • 1. Pay Attention

    1. Pay Attention

    When chatting with teens, give them your undivided attention. Make eye contact, smile, and actively listen. Stand or sit with open body language (uncrossed arms and legs).

    Be open to their opinions and ask questions about their interests and activities. Then follow up with thoughts or comments that show you’re paying attention.

    If someone texts during the chat, ignore it. If a friend walks up, introduce the teen with a positive comment and include them in the interaction. This not only teaches acceptance but also demonstrates that you view your conversation with them as important and worthy of your continued attention.

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock

  • 2. Show Interest and Respect

    2. Show Interest and Respect

    Show teens you value their input by bringing them into conversations.

    Not long ago, my granddaughter sat at the table with me and other adult relatives. She ate quietly until I brought up an activity she had done with me recently and how well it went. One of the adults asked her more, and she lit up and chatted. That little opening helped her feel she belonged.

    • When a teen shares good news, express joy with enthusiasm.
    • When they share a dream, encourage them to pursue it and ask what steps they are taking toward it now.
    • If they share a problem, ask if they have any solutions in mind or how they plan to approach it.

    Only give advice when asked. You’ll show the teen you view them as an emerging adult.

    Be sure to respect boundaries so they will feel safe and comfortable. Meet the teen’s parents and get to know them too. Don't insist on too much physical contact; a handshake is probably safest. Speak out in the open where there are people around. 

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages

  • 3. Show You Care

    3. Show You Care

    Don’t just greet the teens you encounter; work at getting to know them. Pick up from the last conversation when possible. That might include asking how a youth event went or how something you spoke about previously has progressed.

    Notice changes in their style or countenance. Ask if they have any joys you can give praise about or concerns you can pray about that you will keep confidential. Ask the teen to follow up and let you know what happens in the coming week.

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/StockRocket

  • 4. Respond to Body Language

    4. Respond to Body Language

    If the teen appears confident with their head up and a pleasant expression, it’s easier to ask about their day or what has them looking so positive.

    If the teen is looking down with slumped shoulders, or has a sad expression, they may be fighting negative emotions and it's not always helpful to ask what’s wrong right then. Give the teen a compliment on what they’re wearing or share something positive you heard recently to lift their spirits. If the teen appears bored ask what they would rather be doing and converse about that topic.

    When I worked with teens, if I noticed that someone seemed upset, I would give them a little space to calm down. Later, I would ask how the week had been going and what their biggest struggle had been. They usually perked up just having someone notice and listen.

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Martinan

  • 5. Ask Specific Questions

    5. Ask Specific Questions

    Two of my granddaughters shut down when I ask questions like, ‘How was your day?’ or ‘What’s your favorite _______?’ Answering such a broad question can be overwhelming. They prefer a specific question or a comment, like ‘What’s an interesting fact you learned in science recently?’ or ‘I like your hair today. You seem to have a great knack for style.’

    Ask what book they’ve read or movie they’ve seen recently and what they learned from it. Give the teen time to think before answering. Some teens are spontaneous and answer quickly while others want to process longer before responding. Continue to give them your attention as you wait.

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/turk-stock-photographer

  • 6. Encourage Their Friendships and Activities

    6. Encourage Their Friendships and Activities

    Social settings provide teens with opportunities to learn, share, converse, choose friends wisely, and develop relationships.

    My teenage grandsons are becoming more confident as they mature. They have both extended their group of friends and varied their choice of activities. I congratulate them on news of how well they are doing and ask about events I can attend. This demonstrates acceptance of their choices. I’ve also dropped off homemade goodies for their get togethers.

    Some activities you can even do together. My granddaughter likes to cook with me, so when her youth group had a fundraiser that included a silent auction, I offered to help her make chocolates for the event. We spent a day making a tower of chocolates for the raffle. We had fun, and when the winners expressed appreciation for her talent, she had the opportunity to share her chocolate-making process with them.

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages

  •  7. Exchange Ideas and Information

    7. Exchange Ideas and Information

    Let a teen know you are open to either talking about deeper topics or simply exchanging laughs and best moments of the week. You can share how important faith is to you and ask what they believe. Be honest and tell them you are a lifelong learner, but still grapple with some Bible passages. Listen when they share blessings, doubts, or struggles.

    Offer to share your knowledge, such as tips for a job interview if you have business experience.

    If there’s something you'd like to know about a great phone app or if you can’t fix a technical issue on your smart phone, demonstrate that you value their skills by asking for their help.

    Photo Credit: unsplash/sara-kurfess

  • 8. Help Them Practice Work-Related Communication

    8. Help Them Practice Work-Related Communication

    If a teen will be working for you, even cutting the grass or doing some computer work, set the stage for success.

    • Exchange phone numbers to communicate if there’s a problem.
    • Explain the task and make sure it’s understood.
    • Ask if they need anything, like a drink or advice on how to do the job.
    • Show appreciation for work done with a positive attitude. This builds confidence in a teen and helps them as they move forward toward a career.

    When I hired my grandson to clean my driveway, I went outside with him to show him the outdoor faucet and discuss the job. I also gave him the opportunity to demonstrate his skills since he already knew how to connect the pressure cleaner. We set a price, and I reminded him I’d have cold drinks ready for breaks as needed.

    When he was finished, I commended him for his hard work, thanked him, and posted a photo on my social media stating how well he did. He felt proud when people complimented him after seeing the photo.

    Photo Credit: GettyImages/dolgachov

  • 9. Challenge Your Teens to Communicate

    9. Challenge Your Teens to Communicate

    If you're a parent, challenge your teens at times. For example, 'We’ll be at church in a little while. See if you can pass today’s challenge by giving two people a compliment or finding out two new facts about a person.' Here are some other challenges to try:

    • Choose a discussion topic and present a challenge to see if the two of you can converse about it for a few minutes.
    • Do a dream challenge. Share what you would each do with unlimited money and time. Then discuss how you could reach those dreams. This will affirm that it’s okay to dream big.
    • Challenge your teen to discuss a problem for only two or five minutes. Ask for the teen’s perspective, viewpoint, and a possible solution. Share your view concisely and with honesty. Brainstorm ideas. Stick to the limit and be open to another discussion in the future.
    • Do an understanding challenge. Let each of you state your top priority and why it’s so important. Be open to listening to one another. Commit to pray for each other about these priorities.
    • Share something good and something bad about your day or week. If this works well, you can share more, including one great achievement for the week and a major embarrassment or failure.

    If you’re a parent of teens, create opportunities for your kids to talk with a variety of people.

    Helping teens build effective communication skills will enrich their lives and the lives of the people they know. You’ll also be developing relationships and gaining fresh perspectives from young people that will enrich your life.

    Karen Whiting, , is an author of 25 books, an international speaker, and has worked with teens and young adults for 30 years. Her book for youth is Girl Talk Guy Talk.

    Photo Credit: Thinkstock/digitalskillet