Foster Parent Resource Center

Communicating With Teenagers

Happy families Teenagers are a large segment of the population served by child welfare agencies. Of the two million children, youths and families who are assisted by the 675 agencies in the Child Welfare League of America, nearly a million of them are teenagers. They live in group care facilities with foster families and in independent living programs. Some are in programs for pregnant and parenting youths, while others receive services of child welfare agencies because they are homeless, chemically dependent, HIV infected or have AIDS. Certain basic understandings are helpful for parents and other adult authority figures responsible for teenagers. The following tips, from caregivers within the child welfare system, are useful for adults who are working to develop healthy, stable relationships with teens in other settings.

What can you do?

  • Kids deserve respect, and adults should give it to them and expect it from them. This includes a show of respect for their friends. Never berate or belittle teens in front of their peers.
  • Think about how often you ask teenagers questions and seek their opinions.
  • The bravado and boasting displayed by some teens can be a cover-up for insecurity. That adolescent boy or girl with the know-it-all attitude may be unsure of himself or herself and in search of your guidance.
  • One of the biggest problems during adolescence is the power struggle that develops between teens and adults. Recognize it for what it is — the result of teens wanting to feel powerful in an adult world — and find ways of working through it together.
  • Teens are apprentice adults, and they need room to breathe and learn the trade. It's up to the adult to balance freedom and independence with good judgment about when to step in.
  • When it comes to clothes and fads, teens can amaze us with their attempts to "fit in." While it's necessary to set standards, it is also important to refrain from making fun of a teenager's clothes or appearance, since painful put-downs can leave deep scars.
  • Finally, communicate, communicate, communicate. Made a point to talk with teens when there's not a problem. Conversations with teens can be refreshing and insightful, and they should be a part of each day. Most take place in the presence of other people, so find occasions to talk with your teen alone, away from brother, sister and anyone else. And make sure you listen carefully to what is being said as well as what is not. Effective communication is, after all, the key to healthy relationships.


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