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Communicating with your teen

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1 How to foster a bond with my teenager?

2 Communication tips

1 How to foster a bond with my teenager?

Communicating with your teen

Parenting or taking care of a teen means trying to find a balance between supporting and guiding them.

You’re one of the adults they see most often in their daily lives and therefore a role model for them to better understand the world of adults that they will eventually join.

Your attitude and vocabulary influence those of your teenager, but also their perception of you, your openness, your opinions and prejudices of others.

Consequently, your general attitude influences the relationship you have with your teenager, for example, whether they want to talk to you or not.

You set an example for your teenager, in terms of both your good and bad sides. Since childhood, they have been learning your vocabulary and habits. Your teenager uses what they observe to create a perception of you, your degree of openness, your opinions, etc.

Trusted adults are people who are very important to teenagers, even if they don’t always show it!

Comment favoriser un lien avec mon jeune?

Comment favoriser un lien avec mon jeune?

Give yourself permission to enter their world and take an interest in them, their friends, their current relationships, their school environment, their worries, their questions, etc.

  • What are you into these days?
  • Who are your friends?
  • How are you?
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • What do you like about your daily life?
  • On the contrary, what don’t you like about your daily life?
  • Do you have a passion these days? What do you like to do?

If you notice a change in their mood, mention it. These are things you can bring up with your teenager, in your own words. The goal is not to interrogate them, but rather to show them that you care about them.

Qu’est-ce qui t’intéresse ces temps-ci?

Qu’est-ce qui t’intéresse ces temps-ci?

Simple tips (to adapt to your situation):

Choose the right time:

If your teenager doesn’t feel like talking or answering your questions in the moment, that’s fine. Don’t hesitate to tell them that you’re there for them or suggest another time to talk.

Come up with a code:

Some caregivers come up with a code with their teenagers. For example, if their teenager leaves the door ajar before going to bed, it’s a sign that they feel like talking. It’s therefore up to you (the caregiver/trusted adult in their life), rather than them, to initiate a conversation. This trick can be helpful for teens who don’t usually talk a lot.

Set the example:

Answer the questions you ask your teenager every day. For example, if you ask your teenager how their day was, answer the question next. Your teenager will learn a lot from your behaviour. By seeing you confide in them, this may make them want to do the same.

Further considerations

What could encourage conversation with my teenager? What time of day do I feel like my teenager is more receptive? Are there places or contexts in which they prefer to talk (e.g., in the car when you don’t need to look at each other, after a sports practice when their energy is spent and they’re more relaxed, etc.)?

Don’t hesitate to tell them that you’re not asking questions to “play detective”, but because what’s going on in their life is important to you. You can also ask them what they’d like to talk about first.

Being a caregiver sometimes means accepting that you make mistakes. When you realize you’ve made a mistake or regret the way a conversation went, it can be helpful to admit your failings to your teenager by explaining yourself and apologizing. Tell them that you’re trying your best. Don’t hesitate to rephrase what you wanted to tell them at the time. In the eyes of your teen, you’re a significant person who is making an effort without being perfect, just like them.

pistes de reflexion

Accounts from teenagers and caregivers

« When I was a teen, I didn’t talk to my parents very much… but I knew that they were still aware of a lot of things, because of my attitude, my mood changes, my nights spent shut up in my room… Just from a few words here and there, I knew that my parents were there and that they were attentive to my moods, even if we didn’t talk about it… and it reassured me to know that they were still there. »

Woman, 21

« For real, sometimes I find that my parents are always on my back. But other times, I’m happy that they come into my room to ask me how I am. What I like best is when they ask me what activity I’d like to do with them over the weekend. They’re “chill” and we have fun together. »

Girl, 15

« I really like it when my dad takes me on a car ride, and we go eat a poutine and shop for things for his garage. We don't talk a lot, but we’re together. »

Boy, 17

« My dad always asks me a lot of questions. But I know I can call him anytime if I need him, and he’ll be there. It’s reassuring to know that he’ll always answer »

Girl, 17

« I find it so hard to talk to my son. I always feel like I’m bugging him. He spends all his nights in his room… He only comes out to eat. I made a rule where in the car, when I drive him to school in the morning, no one touches any electronic devices. It’s when I can talk with him. He agrees. I don’t get a lot of information, but at least it’s “our” time. »

Mother of a 14-year-old son

« The other day, my daughter asked me about my first sexual experience. I was a little shocked to be asked this question while making dinner… She seemed embarrassed, and so was I. I asked her what she wanted to know exactly. She admitted that she was thinking about doing it for the first time with her girlfriend, and that she was scared. I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk with me after dinner to talk about it and she agreed. »

Mother of a 16-year-old daughter

« When my daughter was a teen, we fought often. It always felt like a “war” at home. She would tell me that I didn’t understand her, that I wouldn’t let her live her life in peace, etc. She almost never respected her curfew and spent all her time with her boyfriend and her friends. I spent very little quality time with her. I realized years later that I worried about her often, but she was safe and usually made good choices. Our relationship today is much more harmonious. We laugh about that time, when we would cross paths in the house and that was enough to start a fight. »

Father of a 23-year-old daughter

« When I feel like it was a busy/stressful day for me or my daughter, I always go into her room at the end of the night and sit at the foot of her bed. After the dinner rush, we have time to chat. She knows that at that time I’m receptive to her telling me about her day if she wants to. »

Mother of a 15-year-old daughter

2 Communication tips

Communication tips

Talking about all the changes experienced during adolescence with a teenager is not necessarily easy. The relationship to discussion and communication can vary from one adult to another. Talking about sensitive topics sometimes requires a lot of courage and ease. Not everyone has the same ideas about sexuality and romantic relationships. These are intimate topics that need to be broached tactfully. Some teens have no problem opening up, whereas others tend to live their first experiences more secretly.

Think back to your first experiences… Did you talk about them with your caregivers or the adults around you? What encouraged you to talk about them, or, conversely, stopped you from doing so?

Astuces pour communiquer

Accounts from caregivers

« My comfort level depends on the questions my daughter has. Sometimes teenagers ask questions you’re not expecting… but you pull yourself together. I’ve been struck speechless before in front of my daughter after she asked me a question about waxing. »

Mother of a 16-year-old daughter

« I was very comfortable during his childhood, but it gets rockier during adolescence. I don’t know which topics to broach anymore, when to talk about which topic. »

Father of a 12-year-old son

« I’m usually the one to raise the topic. My daughter was uncomfortable at first, but she listened attentively… I feel like she’s more comfortable talking about sexuality in general now (but not about hers!). »

Mother of a 14-year-old daughter

« I’m embarrassed sometimes, but still comfortable. Books on psychosexual development really help me initiate conversation with my daughter, in particular about sexuality. There are a lot, and for all age groups, in bookstores. »

Mother of an 11-year-old daughter

Here are a few tips to help you initiate conversations with your teenager

1. Take an interest in them

It can be helpful to start a conversation with your teenager that doesn’t involve a request or finding out more about a specific topic. Simply talk about everything and nothing, about their interests, their passions.

2. Use the actual terms, don’t censor

Using the actual terms is part of your teaching role, especially when talking about romantic relationships and sexuality. You’ll show them that there is no taboo in talking about it and that it’s better to use correct and respectful terms.

3. Talk about it before it happens

It’s recommended to broach certain topics before they happen. For example, when it comes to pubertal changes (nocturnal emissions, menstruation, appearance of hair, etc.), it’s comforting for teenagers to have an idea of what changes to expect regarding their bodies. There are several books that can help you find the right words, and you can let your teenager read them alone if necessary. You can also talk about romantic relationships with them before they experience one. However, it’s important to respect their pace. Trust yourself! You’ll know quickly if the information you’re providing isn’t right for them.

4. Keep in mind that most questions are asked to meet a specific need and are therefore valid

If a question from your teenager makes you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to inquire why they’re asking it. For example, if your teenager asks you if they have to perform fellatio on their partner to fit in, and this question surprises you, ask them what prompted them to ask it, what the context is, etc. You shouldn’t assume that your teenager is asking the question because they’re in that situation; teenagers often ask questions to help their friends.

5. Feel free to answer your teenager’s questions or not

If certain questions make you uncomfortable, suggest another way for them to find the answers (see the Resources section). Your teenager may ask you a question that you don’t have the answer to, but you’d like to take the time to find the answer for them. Don’t hesitate to tell them that you’ll look for the information.
- Click for resources

6. Simply listen

Take the time to listen, even if you disagree with some of their choices. The simple act of listening can really help you better understand them and feel less angry about certain behaviours.

7. Put yourself in your teenager’s place

Putting yourself in a teenager’s shoes is not always easy. You surely have your own relationship to sexuality and dating, past relationships that colour your perspective, etc. This is normal. You can ask yourself what’s important to them or what type of relationship they’re looking for and help them find their own path.

8. Tell them in advance that you’d like to find a good moment to talk with them and choose the right time for a conversation

If you would like to raise a specific topic with them, let them know that you’d like to find a moment to discuss it. This will avoid taking them by surprise. You can also ask them to choose a time when they would be receptive to talking to you.

9. Validate your teenager’s questions and emotions

Validating teenagers’ remarks means giving value to how they’re feeling. This often begins with: “I understand that you may feel this way if…” or “It’s true that experiencing…must…” or “I can understand that you feel this way”, “If I were in your place, I would probably feel the same way.” Validating a teenager often helps calm a tense situation. For example, when you set a limit, it can be helpful to start the conversation with validation. When your teenager is experiencing strong emotions, it can also be helpful to start by validating the emotions they’re feeling. Very often, it’s soothing for teenagers to feel understood and that they have the right to feel this way.

10. Find a compromise

Knowing that teens are in a period where they want to take decisions, make their own choices, is it possible to find a compromise between your demands and their wishes? To arrive at a compromise, both teenagers and adults must be ready to make the effort to open up to each other as well as effectively communicate their expectations and wishes. If the conversations sometimes become too heated, suggest that your teenager write down how they would like it to go in a perfect world (but in a realistic way) and do the same. Then, compare your two versions and try to come up with a game plan together.

11. How to initiate a conversation? What do I tell them first?

You can try to ease into the conversation by talking about your respective days or by mentioning the latest news. You can tell your teenager that you feel like they’re going through some things and that you’re there if they want to talk about it. The important thing is that they feel that you’re interested in what they’re living and that you won’t judge them. Tell them how you feel, what worries you. You can also share an anecdote about your own experiences as a teen. This can not only help you put yourself in their shoes, by diving back into your adolescence, but also remember that you were once a teen yourself and may have had the same questions as them.

12. Be honest

Teenagers feel it when adults aren’t being honest with them. They learn from you. You’re their example of “adults”, so even if you admit that you’re going through a difficult period at work or with some of your friends, show them which strategies you’re implementing to get through it and navigate this difficult time. This a great way for them to learn. It can also be comforting for teenagers to know that a trusted adult around them also sometimes experiences difficulties.

What if my teenager doesn’t talk to me?

Many caregivers and trusted adults mention that their teen doesn’t talk to them anymore and that they feel like they don’t know anything about their lives. So take the initiative! Gradually, talking about everything and nothing with your teenager will make it easier to discuss more intimate topics. Take an interest in their passions, ask to hear their current favourite song, offer to do one of their favourite activities together. Eventually, these special interactions will make it possible to raise more intimate topics such as romantic relationships. Use characters from movies or TV shows or situations that happened to friends or family members to start the conversation and find out more about your teenager’s life. You can ask them what they think about this romantic relationship or friendship. What emotions are involved? Do you know anyone who is in the same type of relationship? What is your point of view on this situation (referring to news in the media, scenes in movies, etc.)? These examples highlight that talking to your teenager doesn’t need to happen within the context of a formal conversation.

You can try asking them questions about this topic by showing an interest in what they’re living:

  • Are you interested in anyone?
  • How do you feel about this person?
  • What do you like about this person?
  • What are you attracted to in this person?
  • Do any of your friends have a romantic partner?
  • How do you feel about the romantic relationships around you? (E.g., are they excited to experiment, are they not interested, do they have fears about dating? If so, what are they?).

These types of questions may embarrass them or make them uncomfortable. You can start by simply reminding them that you’re there to answer their questions or listen when they need you to, in order to respect their pace. The goal is to make them understand that they have a space to talk about it.


Et si mon jeune ne me parle pas?

The needs behind teenagers’ questions

What is behind my teenager’s question? A fear? Do they already have an idea of the answer and want it to be validated?

When teenagers confide in the adults around them or ask them a question, it’s not necessarily to obtain a specific or factual answer. They come to you because of the bond you share, for your reassurance, and not because you’re a dictionary with all the answers to every question!

If they ask you a question you don’t have the answer to, don’t hesitate to turn the question around: What do you think about this? If a friend asked you this question, what would you answer? By turning the question back to them, you’ll better understand what they already know about it and also what they actually need.

The main needs behind teenagers’ questions can be grouped into 3 categories:

Les besoins derrière les questions des jeunes

Need for reassurance

Teenagers often need to be told that they’re not the only ones asking themselves this question. You can tell them that when you were their age, you also had the same questions. Often, these types of questions start with “Is it normal if…?

Need for permission/approval

Teenagers want to know if they’re acting the right way, or if they’re allowed to act in a particular way. These questions can start with: “Are we allowed to…? Is it okay if…? What would you think of someone who does…?” Often, when teenagers are looking for approval from their caregivers or from someone close to them, it can be helpful to point out that their own judgement also matters. You can therefore ask them what they think to make them reflect on their own opinions. This is how critical thinking is developed.

Need for information

Sometimes, teenagers simply need to obtain specific information. If you have the answer, great! You can also direct them to resources that would have the answer or search for it together.


If teenagers feel the need to talk to a trusted adult in their lives, there’s a strong likelihood that it’s “now or never.” It’s important to understand that teens mainly live in the present moment. If possible, be available when they express the need to talk. This will contribute to improving your relationship with them. We sometimes have the tendency to view teens as “mini adults”; however, they are still developing.