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Inova Children's Hospital
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Communication and Your 13- to 18-Year-Old

During this period, teens spend much of the day outside the home — at school or at after-school activities or jobs and with their friends. But it's important to try to talk with your teen every day to share opinions, ideas, and information.

Communicating With Your Teen

Here are a few tips to help you communicate with your teen:

  • Make time during the day or evening to hear about your teen's activities; be sure that he or she knows you are actively interested and listening carefully.
  • Remember to talk with your teen, not at him or her.
  • Ask questions that go beyond "yes" or "no" answers to prompt more developed conversation.
  • Take advantage of time during car trips to talk with your teen.
  • Make time for sporting and school events, playing games, and talking about current events.

Vocabulary and Communication

Teens essentially communicate as adults, with increasing maturity throughout high school. They comprehend abstract and figurative language, such as:

  • idioms ("hit the nail on the head," "on thin ice," "see eye to eye," etc.)
  • similes ("tough as nails," "clean as a whistle," "strong as an ox," etc.)
  • metaphors ("she's a night owl," "that place was a zoo," "time is money," etc.)

Explanations may become more figurative and less literal.

Teens should be able to grasp word meanings and contexts, understand punctuation, and form complex syntactic structures (how words are put together). Communication is more than the use and understanding of words, though — it also includes how teens think of themselves, their peers, and authority figures.

As teens seek independence from family and establish their own identity, they begin thinking abstractly and become concerned with moral issues. All of this shapes the way they think and communicate.

When Should We Get Help?

Have ongoing communication with your teen's teachers about overall language skills and progress. If the teachers suspect a language-based learning disability, comprehensive testing will be necessary. This can include a hearing test, psychoeducational assessment (standardized testing to assess learning style as well as cognitive processes), and speech-language evaluation.

A teen with a specific communication problem, such as stuttering, should be referred to the school speech-language pathologist (an expert who evaluates and treats speech and language disorders).

Vocal-quality problems such as hoarseness, breathiness, or raspiness may need a medical evaluation by an (an ear, nose, and throat specialist). But in most cases, language problems have been found before this age.

Parents often feel that the teen years are a time of difficult communication, when it's normal for teens to challenge parents and resist authority. But behavior that causes severe disruption in the household may not be normal teen rebellion. If you feel that your relationship is particularly trying, talk about it with your doctor.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2019