Tips on how to ‘talk with your teen’

We’re supporting World Suicide Prevention Day this week (September 10) by offering tips on how to talk with your teenagers.

The annual awareness-raising day is organised by International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organisation.

This year’s theme is about understanding the impact that reaching out to people at risk can have in preventing suicide, and ultimately saving lives.

More than 800,000 people take their lives each year across the world. In the UK and Republic of Ireland, more than 6,000 people die by suicide a year – an average of 18 a day.

“Reaching out to people who are going through a difficult time can be a game changer,” says Relate Bedfordshire and Luton CEO Angela Foll. “In particular, we meet young people who feel they have no one they can reach out to when they’re feeling low or worthless and thinking that no-one cares. Small things like hearing from friends or family, feeling listened to, or just being asked the question ‘are you ok?’ can make a huge difference.”

But ‘talking with your teen’ can be tough, she admits. “How can you talk seriously with them about the issues affecting them without them getting upset or angry? How can you make sure your conversation is effective and will really change things?”

Relate counsellors have put together a guide for ‘talking with your teen’. “With these tips in mind, we should try to have meaningful conversations with our sons and daughters, showing them that we care and that we want things to change,” says Angela.

  1. Choose the right time and place

Are you tired after a busy day? Resist the urge to tackle a burning issue if you have been drinking. Try to think about the other person as well – ‘jumping’ on your teen as they walk through the door will probably get it closed firmly in your direction.

  1. Set boundaries

Be clear and specific about your limits and expectations. Decide beforehand what you expect. Be assertive and consistent but be prepared to negotiate and be flexible. As your teen matures, get the balance right between keeping them safe and allowing them some independence and to make their own mistakes.

  1. Lower your defenses

Try not to take things too personally; it may not be you they are angry with at all. Don’t bully, blackmail or guilt trip your teen into doing what you want.

  1. Negotiate

Showing your teen how to negotiate, presenting their point of view respectfully and coming to an agreement are a vital life skill. Don’t miss the opportunity to teach them how to do this at home.

  1. Listen, then talk

Be prepared to listen carefully to what your teen has to say. Try to start from a position where you understand and can show that you have understood. You may not agree but listening shows respect for their point of view.

  1. Stay focused and be specific

Don’t get distracted or try to tackle everything at once. Take one issue at a time and sort that out before tackling the next thing. Prioritise and choose when to stand firm.

  1. Watch your language!

Find the right word to describe your anger. Are you frustrated, annoyed, stressed, unhappy, irritated, wound up or let down? It can be much easier to explain how you feel if you can use the right words.

  1. Focus on what’s really important

Think about what’s really important. Ask yourself before you start – is it worth getting angry about? Could you approach this differently? Could you encourage your teen to do something different without going head on into a row?

  1. Keep your emotions in check

Take time out if you need to calm down before talking it through and saying how you feel or what you want. Teens may respond with either explosions or shutting you out completely but try to talk when you are both calm.

  1. Be prepared to say sorry

Be prepared to say sorry if you have made a mistake or misunderstood a situation and encourage them to do the same. Don’t gloat, and avoid saying ‘I told you so…’ How important is it that you’re right? Your teen will learn much more by accepting that life is all about learning from mistakes and moving on.

Relate Bedfordshire and Luton counsellors are ready to help young people or their worried parents. Call 01234 356350, or email appointments@relatebedsandluton.org.uk

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