Talking to Teenagers and Young people

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It can be hard for teenagers and young people to open up about things that are upsetting them or causing them to worry.

Don’t Judge them

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 do not pre-judge their behaviour as ‘wrong’ or ‘stupid’ they are more likely to open up and explain why their actions made sense to them


Try not to assume you know what’s wrong

Don’t assume you know what’s wrong with them.

Rather than asking a question ‘Are you being bullied?’ try saying ‘I’m worried about you’ ‘You don’t seem to be yourself and I was wondering what’s going on with you at the moment’

‘Can I help you?’

Be clear you want to help

If you suspect they are using drugs, drinking excessively or are in serious trouble; be gentle but direct. Ask them what’s going on and let them know you will help them no matter what the problem is

Be honest yourself

Teenagers and young people will criticise you if you do not follow your own advice. If you drink too much or smoke too much – they will likely mention it (“you can talk”). You need to act responsibly too

Help them think for themselves

Instead of being the expert on their lives – try to help them think for themselves

  •  Discuss the implications of poor behaviour i.e. How does drinking too much make you feel the next day? How will that affect you going to college or playing sport
  • Help them think critically about what they see and hear -So your friend said xxxx – What do you think about that?
  • Help them feel they can deal with challenges – remind them of what they’re good at and how much you love them. This builds confidence in all areas of their lives
  • Information is empowering – let them look at information on drugs, sex, smoking etc. so they know the facts and can make their own minds up
  • Help them to find ways to respond and cope with things – When you feel like that what makes you feel better?
  • Encourage them to think through the pros and cons of how they behave

If all you ever do is nag – they’ll stop listening.

Overlook minor things like the clothes they wear or the music they listen to –

Keep talking so when you need to deal with a major issue they will talk and listen to you

Don’t react to angry outbursts

teenagers often hit out at the people they love and trust the most.

do not think they mean the bad things they say; they are just feeling confused, upset, angry, lost or hormonal.

It’s hard for them.

Help them feel safe

Teenagers and young people often worry about telling an adult will make it worse. Make it clear you want to help and will not do anything they do not want you to do. This is really important to them. Listen to their fears and reassure them that you will help them face the problem together. That they do not have to face anything alone


Ask the right  questions


Don’t give them the third degree – just ask them how their day has been or how are they feeling or what plans they have. Listen to them – they have interesting and valuable things to say