Inside this post: It’s no surprise that today’s teenagers struggle with communicating effectively, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help. Here are a few essential tips to help develop communication skills for teens.
As a parent of two teen boys, I see firsthand the problem many raising adolescents are experiencing: a lack of practical experience, confidence, and social skills to have “real” conversations.
It’s not surprising. According to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, screen time outside of virtual school among teenagers doubled from pre-pandemic estimates of 3.8 hours per day to 7.7 hours.
Additionally, in the App Age where you can order anything straight from your smartphone, most teenagers don’t even think they need basic conversation skills, and in fact, get anxious when they have to actually speak to someone. (You may also like to read: It Broke My Heart to See My Son Suffer with Social Anxiety–Here Is How to Help)
Simple scenarios such as calling in a take-out order, setting up a doctor’s appointment, or asking for directions can cripple a teen today, and many would rather avoid the scenario completely rather than actually having to talk face-to-face with someone.
As parents, we need to be understanding of our teen’s circumstances and fears, but it can feel frustrating when we watch our kids become paralyzed when they need to interact with others.
But the ability to communicate in person with clarity and confidence, regardless of the situation, is an essential life skill, and in today’s world, can even offer your child a competitive advantage.
Effectively communicating ensures that you not only convey your message to someone but also let them know about your feelings, emotions, wants or needs. This is important in both your personal and professional life regardless of your profession.
It can also give a parent some peace of mind. Your child will still need to learn how to interview for a job, may need to share their story to a school admissions officer, or even advocate for themselves with a doctor or other health care provider.
How do you build communication skills for teens?
Many people call these essential skills we need to interact with others soft skills.
What exactly are “soft skills?” They include all the ways in which we communicate and engage with other people, as well as the character traits that enable someone to navigate their world and effectively meet goals. Some people simply call it common sense, but it’s a little more than that.
Some people think we are born with these skills, but that’s not true. We can nurture them in our kids, and it’s important to remember that it’s never too late to start building effective communication skill, particularly during the teenage years when our children are still living at home and can practice with trusted adults.
In essence, people learn communication skills by doing. When you are having actual conversations with someone, either via phone or face-to-face, you receive instant feedback and can adjust accordingly.
By receiving responses from another person, you can quickly learn if how you are presenting the infromation is appropriate. Are you speaking loud enough, are you offensive, are you expressing your thoughts clearly. Other pe’s reactions, emotions, social and non-verbal cues give us insight into how the interaction is going, and how to do better the next time.
So, we’re saying that in today’s world, parents may need to push their teenagers to sharpen their communication skills. That may mean role-playing an interview, forcing them to make their own appointments, or pushing them to have a meeting instead of sending a text.
8 Tips to Building Communication Skills for Teens
Here are some basic tips and guidelines you can help your teen implement to improve their communication skills today.
1. Sometimes, it’s better to pick up the phone. Encourage your teen to pick up the phone, especially if they find that they have a lot to say or explain. Instead of sending an email, Snapchat or IM over Instagram, call the person instead. If they feel weird about it, encourage them to send a text first that says, “This is too much for a text, can I call you real quick?”
Social media is okay for loose connections, but sometimes it is easier to communicate what you have to say verbally. It also allows for the natural give and take of a two-way conversation and alleviates any unnecessary drama that social media or texting creates (things get twisted out of context too easily!) And remember, if you are upset, angry, or emotional, give yourself the time to relax and get grounded before you do anything.
Also, teach your teen the art of an apology and how admitting a mistake verbally can be a powerful way to preserve and grow a relationship. Owning our missteps is an important step in personal growth and can help us throughout our lifetime.
2. Think before you speak. Most people get uncomfortable with an awkward silence but remind your teen that It’s okay to pause before you speak by not rushing to say the first thing that comes to mind. Teach them to take a moment and pay close attention to what you say and how you say it. This one habit will allow you to avoid so much embarrassment and regret. Many times, it’s important to recognize that there is a time and a place for every conversation. It’s a good adage for parenting teens as well.
You can practice this in many areas of life, but particularly during family communication. Hold family meetings to discuss rules and boundaries. Consider having everyone count to 10 before responding to each other, particularly during difficult conversations.
3. Listen more, talk less. Don’t we all want to feel heard and understood? A huge part of becoming a great communicator often comes down to active listening with empathy, and it can be the most important of the communication skills for teens. Encourage your teen to actively listen to what the other person is saying instead of formulating your response and interrupting. It’s important as parents that we model this as well.
During every conversation you have, the person you’re speaking with should be the most important person at that moment. Instead of responding with a story of your own, learn how to be curious and ask probing questions. Asking a good question is the best way to show someone you are listening and interested.
4. Know your audience. This is so important in the age of social media and texting. Who you are talking to matters. It’s okay to use acronyms and informal language when communicating with a buddy, but remind your teen that when they are emailing or texting a teacher, tutor, or coach, “Hey,” “TTYL” or any informal language has no place in the message. They always have to think about who is behind those smartphone screens.
Teens need to understand that they cannot assume that the other person knows what the acronym or other trendy language means. Also, some acronyms have different meanings to different people, and you don’t want to be misunderstood. Target your message based on who you are speaking to, and try to keep the other person in mind when you are trying to get your message across.
5. Body language matters. This is important for face-to-face communication of any type. Encourage your teen to practice introducing themselves in a mirror so they can see their body language. Show them what accessible body language means, such as not crossing their arms or hunching their shoulders. And when possible, maintain eye contact so that the other person knows that you are paying attention. If on Zoom, do your best to look into the camera, not the screen, it makes a big difference. Also, no checking your phone in the middle of a conversation. If you are waiting for an important message, say “Excuse me for a second. I’m expecting a message that I need to respond to right away.”
It’s also important for our teens to understand nonverbal cues from others as well. While some high school students have a command on sarcasm and use pasive-agrressive “digs” regularly, other teens don’t yet have this critical skill. Talk to your teen about processing facial expressions, gestures, and body language. Discuss personal space and “listening between the lines.” They don’t need to perfect these skills, but making them aware can help them become a better communicator.
6. Check (and double check) your messages before you hit send. There are a lot of times when communicating via email or text makes sense. Teach your teens the value of spell and grammar checking, but remind them they are not foolproof. Double-check what you have written to make sure that your words are communicating your intended message. If the message is contentious or emotional, encourage your teen to walk away and return five minutes later to re-read it before they hit send.
A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “How would I react if this were sent to me?” If the answer is you wouldn’t want to receive that message or you have a concern it may be shared across the Internet, it’s a good idea to have a face-to-face conversation instead, no matter how awkward it might be.
A key aspect of communication for teens is simply dialing back the always-on and instant gratification of the online world. Parents must underscore the importance of thoughtful, meaningful interactions with our kids.
7. Get to the point. Attention spans are dwindling. For both written and verbal communication, practice being brief and to the point. This can be difficult for teenagers who are still trying to grasp how to communicate effectively, so role-playing a conversation can help, especially when they are trying to establish professional relationships. Tell your teen to provide enough information for the other person to understand what they are trying to say. If you are responding to an email / text, make sure that you read the entire email before crafting your response. With enough practice, they will learn not to ramble.
8. Maintain a positive attitude and smile. Okay, this is hard for adults, too, but so important, and it can make all the difference when your teen goes out into the real world. Encourage your teen that even when they are speaking on the phone, smile because their positive attitude will shine through, and the other person will know it. When you smile often and exude a positive attitude, people will respond positively to you. It seems like a no-brainer, but this simple habit is often overlooked and can make a positive impact.
Developing communication skills for teens can be a game-changer
While these seem simple and basic, these communication skills for teens can be a game changer for your child. Help them develop these necessary skills and habits now so your teen successfully navigate the conversations that will count later.
This is a contributed post by Matt Crevin, Founder of Talk Shop. Matt is a single dad with two boys living in the Seattle , WA area. He launched Talk Shop in 2020 to deliver pivotal communication skills to today’s youth. He draws from his experience in professional sports, the business world (having worked for two Fortune 500 firms) and his parenting journey, to bring tremendous insight and a fun and engaging delivery style that creates impact with today’s students.The Talk Shop mission is: To develop today’s students to communicate clearly and confidently regardless of the situation or setting. For more information on group workshops or highly customized 1:1 coaching, please feel free to contact Matt direct at: firstname.lastname@example.org