Why Parent Teen Conversations Fail

By Kathy Taberner

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As a parent, do you wonder why your parent teen conversations fail? Do your conversations lead to emotional outbursts, frustration and misunderstandings?

You are not alone.

Teens are testing their independence. Parents want to respect this and loosen control. And yet, thinking they are helping, parents tell their teen what to do. The teen reacts. As a result, egos get in the way and emotional buttons get pushed. Conversations between parents and teens end abruptly and fail.

The Good Old Days

In the 1990's I was a parent of 2 teens. I would check in and watch what they were doing. I could see their highs and lows and understood their challenges.  This was because what they were doing at 13 was not that much different from what I did as a 13 year old.  Life had changed, but it was basically very similar.

Conversations happened and there was common ground.  Our experiences of being 13 held commonalities. Experiences could be connected and understood. There were struggles as expectations differed somewhat and sometimes our parent-teen conversations failed. However, it's so much different today.

What’s Changed

Now, I look at my kids and I see their challenges as parents are much more challenging than mine were.  For example, life experiences. The challenges of their kids are completely alien to me and much the same for them.  As a result, I see parents trying to rely on their experiences when they were the same age. Unfortunately, it is not working.  This leads to parent-teen conversations failing.

Research shows that the disconnect between parents and kids is growing.  Technology has created such enormous shifts in our culture. Experiences of kids today are extremely different than those of their parents.  As a result, it's hard for parents to understand the experiences and challenges of their kids.

One thing that hasn't changed is this.  Parents want to help their teens develop the skills needed to keep them safe. The struggle is this.  How do parents and teens communicate and navigate these challenges effectively. Especially when perspectives and experiences are so different.


Be present

Be present


Why Parent Teen Conversations Fail

When parenting feels hard, goes wrong, triggers past hurt or is straight up overwhelming, parents do what we know - we tell. Parents do what was modelled to us as children, even if we didn't like it. That's why in those emotional moments, when our backs are up against the wall, we hear our parents’ voices coming out of our mouths.

As parents we focus on being right,  wanting to prove our points. We desperately try to get our kids to see the situation/issue from our perspective. The problem is, when we get so focused on being understood we forget to be understanding. That's why parent-teen conversations fail.

In order to be connected and keep your teen safe it's critical to have conversations that are understanding. This means listening without judgment and asking questions to better understand what's going on in your teen’s life. This does NOT mean you have to like what you hear, or even agree with what you hear. What it means is that you will understand what is going on for your teen and how best to support them. That's a successful, connected conversation.

Connected Conversation

Connected Conversation


3 Tips for connected Conversations


Tip 1:  Be Present 

When there is an opportunity for a conversation, jump at it. Stop what you are doing and be fully present with them. Everything else can wait. If you aren't present with your teen, your conversation will fail! Notice your teen's body language and tone of voice. Be open and non-judging to what they have to say.  Paraphrase occasionally to check that you and your teen have the same understanding. Quiet the inner voice of your ego in your head that is pushing you to tell them what to do.  When you are present, showing up for them fully, you can attentively listen to what they have to say. 

Tip 2:  Be Open and Non-judging

This is a time to sit back and respect your teen for what they have to say. What they want to share with you.  They have wisdom, insights, fears, and unique perspectives like you.  As you listen, focus on what they have to say in a way that is open and without judgment.  As my son said at 17, ‘you’re not the boss of me’ and I wasn’t.  In emotional moments, teens don't want to be fixed and solved, they want to be heard and understood. Listen without judgment so you can learn.

Tip 3:  Ask Curious Open Questions to Understand

Ask open thoughtful questions for which you do not have an answer.  These are questions that begin with who, what, where, when and how. Give your teen the time and space to respond, sharing their thoughts and ideas.  Much like peeling back an onion, ask questions that can deepen your learning and create mutual, shared understanding.  As common ground expands, you can support them as they sort through their issue. Ask them to create their own strategies that will help them be successful. Ask them how they want to be held accountable and what support from you would look like.  This will result in you staying in a place of curiosity wanting to support, learn and understand.  You can choose this instead of going to a place of judgment, where we want to fix and solve. Fixing and solving is how conversations fail.


Parenting Skills

Effective communication skills, like parenting skills, are skills that are not taught. Which is why parent-teen conversations fail. We have never been taught how to have them. As parents we are just magically expected to know what to do, and it's really hard.

As a mother/daughter curious communication team we are passionate about changing that.

If you are a mom of a teen{s} and want to:

  • Live your life fully as a mom

  • Always be your best even when your teen is challenged in emotional situations

  • Support your teen in helping them get clear on how to keep themselves safe and

  • Get life changing parenting skills to live your life fully


Dori, Kirsten and Kathy are having a retreat just for moms of teens…..



Join us for our retreat May 22-25, 2019. We are giving you the exact parenting skills to have better conversations, faster, easier and without struggle.

Get all the details. Click the button below

Kathy Taberner is a guest writer for ensolearning and co-author of “The Power of Curiosity”. She brings a wealth of experience, coaching and learning to help bring more curiosity and connection to our conversations. Join Kathy, her daughter Kirsten Siggins and Dori Howard at enso Retreat Centre for A Shade More Curious with your teen.

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