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Getting teenagers to talk openly about what's bothering them can be hard. Follow these tips to help get them talking to you about their worries.
Start by assuming they have a good reason for doing what they do. Show them you respect their intelligence and are curious about the choices they've made.
If you don't pre-judge their behaviour as "stupid" or "wrong", they're more likely to open up and explain why their actions made sense to them.
Don't assume that you know what's wrong. Rather than asking "Are you being bullied?", try saying "I've been worried about you. You don't seem your usual self, and I wondered what's going on with you at the moment? Is there anything I can help with?".
If you suspect your child is using drugs or drinking excessively, be gentle but direct. Ask them, and let them know that you'll help them through any of their difficulties.
Teenagers will criticise you if you don't follow your own advice. If you drink too much alcohol yourself, for example, they're likely to mention it (" You can't talk!"). Make sure you're acting responsibly yourself.
Instead of trying to be the expert on your teenager's life, try to help them think for themselves:
If they only ever hear nagging from you, they'll stop listening. Overlooking minor issues, such as the clothes they wear, may mean you're still talking to each other when you need to negotiate – or stand firm – with them on bigger issues, such as drugs and sex.
Teenagers often hit out at the people they most love and trust, not because they hate you, but because they feel confused.
Don't think that they mean the bad things they say ("I hate you!"). They may just feel confused, angry, upset, lost or hormonal, and they don't know how to express it.
Teenagers often worry that telling an adult will just make things worse. You need to be clear that you want to help them and won't do anything they don't want you to.
This may be particularly important with bullying. If your child opens up to you about bullying, explain that it isn't acceptable. Listen to their fears and reassure them it's not their fault.
Help build up their confidence by reassuring them that you'll face the problem together.
Sometimes you'll find out more about your teenager if you ask open questions. If they have an eating disorder, for example, asking confrontational questions like "What did you eat for lunch?" or "Have you made yourself sick?" may mean you get a dishonest answer.
Sticking to open questions such as "How are you?" or "How has your day been?" helps your teenager talk to you about how they're feeling .
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.