“Speak Softly … & less”, Plus 8 other Tips for Talking to Teens


“How was lunch?” I ask, venturing into conversation with one of my teens who isn’t much into conversing with parents these days. He had just come from lunch with one of his professors… a Saturday lunch.


“What did you talk about?”

“I dunno,” he replied. “… stuff.”

“Yeah? Anything worth sharing?” I should have stopped. I should have known the well was not producing.

“Just stuff,” he looked up from his afternoon bowl of cereal and gave me a little raised-eyebrow nod. If nothing else, at least I had been patient, not bombarding him the minute he came home.

“Well, okay,” I give up – knowing that information will flow at another time. I’ve learned that timing is everything with my kids during this phase of life. The conversations are there. But so are moods. I’m learning that slow & steady actually does win the race. Stay the course and try loving.

Instead, I switch to mother-mode, “You need to write a thank-you note … today.”

He looks at me again, this time quizzically.

I ignore his lack of response, “If you can’t find your stationery – I have some cards you can use.”

“What are you talking about?” he gruffs.

“Ummm… You WILL be writing a thank you note.”


“To be polite.”


“Because you’re polite. You will be polite.”

“Oh, I’m not polite.”

“Yes you are,” I nyahh. “… and you will be writing a note.”

At this point, we start to duke it out. He sticks to his not polite guns and I grab hold of my yes you will be polite whip. Which is the first problem.There are better ways to talk with a teen.

#1 Don’t enter a conversation with a teen as a battle. You never win. In fact, no one wins. Such efforts are built on false assumptions that rational thoughts will prevail. Rational never enters a teen vs menopausal mom boxing ring. So I shouldn’t either. Because within seconds of sparring, any semblance of rational thinking has exited the building, or car – which is where many of our conversations occur.

#2 Talk to … not at. I don’t know what I’m scared of, but more often than not I can barely stop myself from making our conversation a teachable moment. Maybe it has something to do with looming departure (I only have 15 months left with our oldest) getting ever closer with our teens. But … I can’t imagine wanting to talk with anyone who makes every conversation a lesson. So why do it?!

#3 Silence is …. well silence. Silence isn’t always bad. It doesn’t always mean someone is hiding something or trying to ignore. It can be leaned into – even from an excessive talker like me. Because silence often signifies safety. After a long day, the kids often want to veg. How nice to be a place where they feel safe enough to say nothing, no small talk, no searching for something to say … just silence.

#4 Speak softly … & less. Avoid volume crescendos that often occur as we strive in the heat of the moment to make a point. The louder we get, the more ridiculous the words. Soft talk is so much easier to hear. On both sides.

#5 Listen. A lot. Often. Before speaking. And without predetermination.

#6 Despite what I think or feel, my kids are not a reflection of me. Mirror check: Yes – that reflection is me, not them or visa-verse. We each see our own reflection.The kids actually are their own people. And by this time in life, they should be actively making many of their own decisions. Hopefully founded in part to all the wisdom and training we have bestowed upon them. So when I’m in the car, aghast, possibly appalled by a kid’s sorry attitude or, on the flip side, thrilled by a kid’s brilliant achievement – I must remind myself to do a quick check. A little visor-mirror action – yup, still me. Oh… but that Thank-You note would really shore up my standing as a good parent.

#7 Don’t always assume the worst. I know “assume the best” would be better, but who am I kidding? Baby steps around here. But you never know what surprises lie around the corner. As I was about to see…

“You will be writing a thank you note… Even if I have to hold your hand and move it while you’re doing it!” Yes. … I actually said that. I can’t begin to imagine why. He’s bigger than me. Clearly I had risen to the maturity level of an 8-year-old. Sometimes I surprise myself.

“I am not writing a note,” he responded.

“Oh, yes you are!”

“No. I’m not,” He adds, “Would you have made me write a note when Prof B went to dinner with a group of us the other night?”

“No … That was all spur of the moment, casual,” I replied.

“That’s my point exactly,” he said. Relieved a bit that I was tracking. “I really had a great time with Dr. W. I don’t want to mess it up by making it all formal and note-worthy. It was casual. And I liked that. He’s fun to talk to.”


#8 Be open minded and ready, at least willing, to apologize.

“Well … yeah,” I continued. “I hadn’t really thought of it that way.” Then I had to add, “”Why didn’t you tell me that in the first place?”

He shook his head and shot me a deserved eye-roll. And I looked at the young man across the table from me, who clearly has much more purposeful thinking going on than I can imagine.

# 9 Be patient, go slow and have faith. Because the Lord is patient, he’s brilliant at slow and is always faithful. And God grows stunningly beautiful things in the most unlikely of places.

Here’s to staying the course. Ever grateful I don’t have to walk it alone.


Flowering Cactus

Flowering Cactus from my folks home in Arizona. Such a stunning display of beauty amidst the thorns and dry ground of the desert.

A testimony to the Lord’s ability to create blooms in the most unlikely places.


  1. Gal,
    I can so relate to this. Had four of those at my house. I will tell you that it gets better and we are now having great conversations. I am a firm believer in Using Fewer Words. Worked out well for me. Just difficult to do in the moment. xoxo

  2. Your post came in a timely manner. Just this morning, during breakfast, I tried to force my 12 year-old to tell me what was wrong. She insisted it was nothing and maybe it wasn’t, but she’s the one that wears her emotions all over her face. Poker won’t be her thing. Of course, I got mad. I have a hard time just sitting and letting things happen naturally. I’m too busy trying to save her from the big bad world. Or maybe I’m trying to save myself. Thanks for the post!

  3. This post has me doing a bit of self reflection. It is all too easy to break out the “yes you will be polite” (or whatever the current topic is) whip. Conversely, it takes a lot of grace to stay calm, listen well, and really work to engage a teen in genuine communication. Just thinking about it makes me tired! Timing was perfect on this for me as good communication has been in short supply at our house lately.

  4. As the mom of a daughter who is a
    freshman in college and was always
    very communicative, it’s been a challenge
    with my son, a freshman in high school,
    who is more like the son you write about,
    here. A lot of adjusting this year! The
    silver lining has been our solo rides home
    from activities, which are sometimes silent,
    if he is tired, sometimes sizzling with energy
    and talk if he is “stoked” about something,
    and sometimes, full of laughter. Thanks for
    your advice, which is really spot on!

    xo Suzanne

  5. Hi Kay-
    Just found your blog and I love it! I have two teenage sons and am a brand new blogger. I’m so glad to find someone else writing about raising teenagers….seems there aren’t many of us out there. I will be back to read more.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>