7 Tips For Getting Your Teenager To Talk To You

7 Tips For Getting Your Teenager To Talk To You

I recently had a coaching session with a heartbroken mother who had just discovered some shocking activity on her teenage daughter’s phone.  

In an attempt to salvage some degree of trust, she decided to ask her daughter questions, giving her the chance to come clean, before revealing what she had discovered.  The result was that, at every junction, her daughter vehemently denied each inquiry until confronted with the evidence that her mom already knew.  The ease of her deception and the contrast between the type of girl her mother had believed her to be was so disorienting, that mom found herself questioning everything she knew about her daughter.

I’m sharing this story with you to serve as a reminder that we don’t always know as much about our kids as we tend to assume.  Kids learn, through our interactions, what we expect of them, and can easily be clever enough to show us the version of themselves that they believe we want to see, in order to keep the peace.

Obviously, this can be problematic.  Not only does their guard get in the way of us being able to truly connect with them, but it also can make it difficult for us to identify what they may need help with or guidance in.  

In this article, I’m going to share with you seven tips for opening up the channels of communication with your kids – which is, ultimately, the ideal way to avoid finding yourself in such situations.

1. Break free from your assumptions.

Whether you are aware of them or not, chances are, you may be harboring some assumptions or expectations about your kids or how they should be with you.  For example, you may be assuming that your kids have absolute trust in you, given that you are their parent and basically front the bill for their existence.  Or, perhaps you have assumptions about their confidence or other personality traits, like laziness.  Similarly, they may be harboring assumptions about you, hence their guard.  

Throughout my years of working with children, both as a mindset coach and as an educator, I’ve learned, time and time again, that my initial perceptions can be far from the truth.  For instance, I’ve worked with rebellious kids that turned out to have low confidence in their capabilities, confident kids that turned out to be harboring low self esteem, smart kids that turned out to be lost and too insecure to ask for help.  

If we want them to let go of their assumptions about what they can or cannot share with us, the best way is to demonstrate that we’re willing to do the same for them. 

2. Dish out compliments.

I’ve often found that, when asked about their kids, most parents have the most wonderful things to say.  They delight in their child’s talents, personality, and accomplishments, but in my conversations with their kids, the impression that the kids have is that their parents are in fact not proud of them.  

It can be easy to take for granted that they must know, but sometimes they need to hear it in the grand, exaggerated sense as well for it to really stick.

3. Listen more, talk less.

A mother and father I was coaching a while ago, told me about their son and what he was like during our first session.  Proudly, they raved about his computer skills and informed me that their son was a bonafide genius when it came to tech, and it was a topic that he was extremely passionate about.

Then, when I met with their son, to help break the ice, I mentioned how his parents had told me he was really into computers and technology, and he responded with, “Not really.  They just think I am, even though I’ve told them I’m not.”  

As it turns out, the parents were likely seeing and hearing what they wanted to, or perhaps were fixated on a former version of their son without realizing that his interests had evolved since then.  

My main point is that, it’s possible that your kids may already be trying to communicate with you, and as someone that has been guilty of this myself as well, sometimes it’s us that aren’t fully tuning in.  So, this suggestion is to try shifting the dynamic of some of your conversations so that they do 80-90% of the talking, while you do 10-20%.  This may mean allowing silence for a while until they start opening up themselves. 

4. Prioritize deepening your relationship with them for a time.

If your relationship has been strained for a while, or is getting there, take some time to prioritize rebuilding a solid foundation with them.  Do your best to let go of any expectations you may be fostering of them for school, or for an apology that they justifiably owe you, and see what happens if you shift your focus for a time.  

I’ve encouraged parents to do this and seen results within days.  If you want to follow a more structured approach for this, sign up to take our free 3-day challenge to deepen your connection with your kids.

5. Be patient.

This one is particularly relevant when it comes to working with kids academically.  Educators and parents alike can sometimes rush to give the answers when kids take too long on questions.  This is another thing I’ve been guilty of, but over time have learned how to drop subtle hints without giving much away.  

In the same way that you shouldn’t assist a hatching baby bird as it requires the struggle to build strength, kids need to struggle through academic challenges to really grasp a concept.  The best way to “assist” them is to guide, encourage, and genuinely question their incorrect conclusions for understanding, rather than correcting.

6. Be interested in their interests.

This one can be difficult to do as adults, naturally, but I’ve found it to be incredibly effective in rapport building.  Allow your kids to bring out the “kid” in you from time to time, and you will surely see drastic changes in your relationship with them, with more joy for both you and them.  

My effectiveness as a teacher significantly improved when I shifted my style so that I became more willing to come down to the level of my students.  I literally started enjoying working with kids that I had previously considered a nuisance.

7. Watch your reactions.

This is a very important point: when your kids do something wrong, watch how you react!  

To give you an example, I read a post on facebook recently, by a mother about something her teen daughter had asked her that morning.  Apparently, the girl inquired if she could spend the night with her boyfriend, which to the mother was an outrageous request.  And this is the type of moment when watching your reactions becomes imperative.  

While it may be tempting to let them know how ridiculous you feel their question was, those types of instinctual reactions may be costing you the ability to have open dialogue with your kids.  A reprimanding reaction may be the impression that comes to mind for them when they’re deciding whether or not you truly are someone they can be vulnerable with, regardless of how often you reassure them that they can come to you with anything.

From 4.0 GPA to Academic Probation in One Month

From 4.0 GPA to Academic Probation in One Month

I once tutored a girl who had gone from having a 4.0 GPA to being on academic probation in the span of about a month.  Her parents had reached out to me in desperation after her grades had suddenly started spiraling, and they made it very clear that she needed sensitivity and understanding, and that I shouldn’t be harsh with her.  This was fine with me, since that’s more of my style anyway, but once we started working together, I realized that even my normal level of compassion was not going to be enough.  

In our sessions, I couldn’t show her any sympathy, encouragement or praise, nor could I challenge her in the slightest, because all of these things would make her feel so insecure and vulnerable that she would tear up instantly.  I had to tread so lightly that I eventually stopped asking her to do any problems altogether, and would spend most of the time explaining and showing her how to do the problems myself.  

According to her father, the thing that had pushed her over the edge was a bad quiz grade in Math, something she had never received before.  Then came a “bad grade” in Chemistry, and shortly after that, all of her grades were plummeting and fast.  By the time we started working together, she had taken leave from school to try and catch up on her own because she couldn’t face her classes, but from the sound of it, her folks weren’t very optimistic about her being able to recoup.

The reason I’m sharing this story with you is to address a topic that I’ve come to believe deserves the attention of every parent of an adolescent, and that is: the fragility of teenager confidence and its consequences.  

Confidence is often conflated with high self esteem, but the thing is, in my 10+ years as an educator, I’ve worked one-on-one with many kids that seemed outwardly confident, only to realize it was a just mask for low esteem.  This would be most obvious in instances when they’d pretend to understand something rather than ask for clarity, or they’d get uncomfortable when discussing their mistakes.  What good is it to be confident if one cannot be muster the confidence to believe in themselves when it matters most, such as when having to withstand peer pressure, or to make a comeback from failure, or even to make wise decisions?  

For parents, the risk of not recognizing the signs of a false confidence that masks low self esteem can leave them just as shell shocked in the event of a sudden collapse.  Still, there are many that do recognize the presence of low self esteem in their kids, but it’s a very difficult thing to influence a change in.  You can’t exactly convince someone to believe in themselves just by telling them they should, they have to buy into it themselves.

After repeatedly witnessing firsthand, the prevalence and significance of low self esteem in my students, I spent several months researching and learning about it, trying to understand what can be done, if anything.  There’s a lot to share, so I’ve compiled it into a 3-part email series, in which I go over:

  • What is self esteem and why does it matter?
  • How to tell if your son or daughter suffers from low self esteem (and how to recognize high self esteem).
  • What the impact of low self esteem is on kids.
  • What the Psychology academics have to say about self esteem.
  • What you can do to help your kids.
  • What the antidote for low self esteem is.

If you would like access to the remainder of the series, please submit your info below and we’ll email it to you over the next few days. 

Subscribe for the “Teens and Low Self Esteem” Series:


Teenagers and Low Self Esteem

Teenagers and Low Self Esteem

Self esteem is a hot but somewhat controversial topic in the Psychology academic world these days.  Many modern day Psychologists denounce high self esteem as a necessary tenet for raising a mentally healthy child.  Whether or not that is true, as many parents and teachers can attest, the absence of high self esteem (a.k.a. low self esteem), seems to be “the problem behind the problem” for many adolescents today. 

In this article, I’ll be going over:

  • What is self esteem and why it matters,
  • What is the potential impact of low self esteem for today’s youth,
  • How to tell if your son/daughter suffers from low self esteem,
  • What the big debate over self esteem is about, and
  • What you can do about it as a parent. 

As an educator for over 10 years, I have repeatedly witnessed firsthand, the prevalence and significance of low self esteem in my students.  Academically, one key negative impact observed is a low motivation to improve, causing students to develop a fixed mindset. 

What is self esteem?

Self esteem is often conflated with confidence, but the thing is, I have personally worked with many kids that were outwardly confident, only to eventually realize it was actually a mask for low esteem.  This would be most obvious in instances when they would pretend to understand something rather than ask for clarity, or they would get uncomfortable when discussing their mistakes.  So, perhaps self esteem is something that goes deeper than confidence.  

There are various definitions used in the Psychology world, but for this essay, I’m going to define it as the way someone feels about themselves as determined by the weight they place on the perspectives of others in their decision making, as compared to their own.  This is the only way to understand how a kid that appears to be very confident could still have low self esteem – their perception of themselves would have to rely so heavily on the feedback they’re getting from the outside, that learning and improving would not be worth the risk of receiving negative feedback.

Therefore, according to this definition, only a student with high self esteem would place a higher value on correcting a misconception than they would on what I might think of them if they were wrong.  This is why I believe that self esteem is not something that should be dismissed so easily – I’ve seen it interfere, time and time again, with the progress and potential of my students.  

Even those that don’t have the appearance of high confidence suffer from the impact of low self esteem, although this time, it’s problematic in a different way.  For them, low self esteem is more about having such little belief in themselves that they don’t see the point in trying.

What is the potential impact of low self esteem in kids?

The problems caused by low self esteem in youth these days span far and wide in scope, beyond just academics.  It only seems logical that their dependency on the acceptance of others would be at the root of why things like depression and anxiety are on the rise, not to mention addictions to social media, among other addictions, and any poor, short-sighted and unnecessarily risky decisions they make.  It’s no wonder that so many parents, educators and mental health professionals are concerned about the effect that social distancing will have on today’s generation of kids.

I want to be clear that I am not asserting that there is something wrong with wanting to be accepted, it is one of the basic human needs, after all.  The problem arises when it becomes the primary motivating factor behind their decisions, because even if it happens to pay off for them, the reward will likely not satiate the need, but rather, make them even more dependent on it. 

To some degree, we all have this need, but as we get older and wiser, our priorities change, and we become more accepting of ourselves, and so, less dependent on others for that.  So, maybe that’s what will happen to this generation too?  Perhaps, but one thing is for sure, they have a lot more tools and distractions at their disposal to feed their addictions, which start at a much younger age for them than for us, and the patterns of “needs” created in childhood can be very difficult to get free of as adults.  

The other thing is that the growing years so greatly influence the path that our lives take.  These are the years when their potential is the greatest, yet it can easily get sabotaged. 

How to tell if your teen suffers from low self esteem

Here are some little signs and things to look for when trying to determine if your son or daughter has low self esteem, as well as some signs of high self esteem:

Signs of low self esteem:

  • They don’t like change.
  • They think they’re good at everything (or most things).
  • They quit easily when faced with resistance.
  • When they disagree with you, they have a tone of defiance.
  • Or they hardly ever disagree with you, and when they do, it’s with uncertainty.
  • They have an apathetic attitude towards anything that will require work.
  • They worry a lot about what others will think of them, and try to please others.
  • They don’t own up to mistakes.

Signs of high self esteem:

  • They do things outside of their comfort zone.
  • They love to learn.
  • They’re more afraid of not improving than they are of appearing weak or ignorant.
  • They don’t have a problem disagreeing or questioning your opinions, but it is out of curiosity, not to challenge you.
  • They do what they say they’re going to do.
  • They’re not so afraid of being wrong or embarrassing themselves that they stop themselves from doing something anyway.

What is the big debate over self esteem about?

The reason that so many Psychologists denounce the importance of high self esteem is because having high self esteem, or placing a higher value on one’s own perspective rather than that of others, especially too early in life, can pave the way for narcissistic traits.  It is like the pattern I mentioned above, with the students that are “too confident” to teach anything new to, since they apparently don’t need to learn anything more, and so, that is why parents are now being discouraged from giving false praise to their kids in early childhood.

What is really needed is something I’ll refer to as earned high self esteem, where they are praised, but only appropriately so – when they do something to earn it.  That way, the reward comes as a result of working hard to overcome a challenge, and not for simply believing one is entitled to the reward (think: A for effort).  On the other end of the spectrum is the problem of feeling demoralized in the event of failure, but I’ll come back to combating that. 

By now, you’re probably wondering, what about the kids that are already past the early developmental stages, like their tween and teen years?  Can those patterns still be changed, and if so, how?

What you can do to help them:

Have you ever tried convincing someone to believe in themselves?  It can be an incredibly difficult thing to do.  Some people feel grateful for your attempt and will agree, just to make you feel better about trying to encourage them.  Others can feel offended that you think they don’t already believe in themselves.  So, sometimes even having a conversation about it can be tricky, but here are some of my suggestions for what you can do: 

  1. Compliment them on their courage, as well as on successful results.  That way, you’ll recalibrate their thinking, so that they get little boosts of “reward” even when they fail at something, meaning that they won’t quit so easily on themselves, and they’ll get used to the idea that high self esteem is something that takes hard work to earn.
  2. Teach them to be self accountable, so they start to focus more on their own responsibilities and opinions than on the outside feedback.  If you would like to learn more about how to do this, I’ve put together a series that you can read about here.
  3. Seek out a good therapist or life coach for them if they seem overly preoccupied with wanting external validation.  Having a professional therapist will help them process their emotions, and hopefully, communicate and reflect their self image to them in a way that moves them towards independence.
  4. Look for volunteer opportunities that they can join.  This is another activity that reinforces the first and second suggestions: that high self esteem must be earned.
  5. If they are the shy and reserved type, try to gently nudge them to do things that are slightly outside of their comfort zone, and keep expanding that zone slowly.