5 Ways To Successfully Talk To Your Teenage Son (& Get Him To Respond)

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Parenting Advice For How To Communicate Effectively With A Teenage Boy During Adolescence

Sometimes, we all need a little parenting advice to figure out how to communicate effectively with teenage boys.

Somewhere in adolescence, he may retreat from you and you lose access to his inner world.

You struggle to understand his grunts in reply to simple questions or he tells you to "Chill." Or, in the words of one of my client’s sons, "Take a Xanax!"

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When asked about schoolwork or plans, your teenager may offer some version of "I’ve got it", even though if your opinion, he definitely does not.

All this can be frustrating.

What do you do when your son refuses to talk? It's time to brush up on your parenting skills so you can better connect with your teen. 

Here are 5 parenting tips for communicating effectively with teenage sons.

1. Communicate "through the fence"

A client of mine realized that, after some trial and error, communication went best when she respected her son’s need for space.

This image of the fence is helpful: you’re not going to have emotional, long-winded talks through a fence.

You probably won’t get in a serious power struggle either–you don’t want that behavior on display in your "yard".

Through the fence, you see him more for who he really is. You can see his struggles and his strengths.

When you talk through the fence, you acknowledge his need for privacy and restraint. The fence is an image you can conjure. It too good not to share.

2. Ask him other questions other than "How was school?"

Parenting teens mean getting a lot of grunts "fine" as answers to simple inquiring questions.

But, if you don't want that, you’re going to have to meet him where he’s at.

Teenagers — particularly teen boys — have a lot to say, but they need to feel like you aren’t just worried about them. 

They are socialized to be strong and hold it together. So they either freeze up in the face of anxiety or they fight it. 

They also want to feel like their opinions matter.

Figure out the things he’s loving and then occasionally ask him to rate his top 3 players, guitarists, games, or films.

If you get curious about his world and don’t try to redirect the conversation back to your top 3, you’ll learn a lot about what he observes, believes, and values.

3. Respect his emerging manliness

It can be very hard to witness the transition from boy to man. But I read something in the book Voice Lessons by Wendy Mogul that I can’t forget: Teen boys have bodies that are betraying them constantly. This can make any interaction awkward. Yes, even with you, their parent.

When communicating with teen boys, give them space and respect their privacy.

If you’re used to doting on him, offer specific praise about something he did.

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4. Don’t use humor at his expense

One dad shared that his son lost it recently when Dad was "busting on him about his big, gross feet" — a subject that had long been a family joke.

All teens are self-conscious about their looks, performance, and where they rank in the pecking order.

The dad didn’t mean to hurt his son, but going forward, he’ll be more mindful of his son’s sensitivity.

5. Let him have some control

Here’s a scenario that frequently comes up: Boys who would rather sit for hours and do nothing than do their homework.

There’s an idea in psychology known as locus of control, which has broadened my understanding of children.

It’s pretty simple to implement: look for places where your child can take control of his life and let him have it. Even if he’s messy, inefficient, or imperfect.

Here’s the simple breakdown of locus of control: Either we have an internal locus of control or an external one.

He, who has an internal locus of control, "attribute success to his or her own efforts and abilities.

A person with an external locus of control, who attributes his or her success to luck or fate, will be less likely to make the effort needed to learn.

How this plays out with children, in simple terms, is that many of us want to be in control.

This is why a traffic jam can make us feel a certain kind of crazy: It’s out of our control. When we become parents, we forget that this is an innate desire for all people.

We see this desire for control as early as the toddler years, where suddenly a child declares "Me do it!"

As teens grow and differentiate from their parents, their desire for control only heightens.

So if your teen son is managing his life, but it’s not optimal, it’s okay. Let the locus of control be his.

As the son of a client told his mother, who was "suggesting" how he could improve his time management, "It seems like it’s been a while since you were a teenage boy."

Fair point. He can do his work on the way to school, as long as it’s done.

Staying connected during the teen years is challenging and you are trying to be relevant to a person who is constantly pushing you away.

Communicating with teen boys is much harder because of how they are socialized and how they mature.

But, by working on your communication skills and understanding how an adolescent sees the world, you can successfully get what you want to say across to your teen.

So, if you want your teen boy to talk to you, try talking to him through the fence or engaging him on topics other than school.

Show him that you’re interested in who he is, not just worried about how he is doing.

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Helaina Altabef is a parenting, family, and life coach. For more information on her parenting classes and coaching for the digital age, visit Tame the Teen.

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This article was originally published at Tame The Teen. Reprinted with permission from the author.