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How to talk to your teenager – and get them to do what you want

The secret to engaging with a teenager isn't what you say but how you say it. ISTOCK

How to talk to your teenager – and get them to do what you want

New research may offer a helping hand to parents struggling to communicate or engage with their teenage children.

How to talk to your teenager – and get them to do what you want

Teenagers. Can’t live with them. Can’t live without them…well hang on, let’s just think about that.

Seriously, anyone who thinks dealing with toddlers is hard still has their best fights ahead of them.

But new research out this week may offer a helping hand to parents who are finding their stock-standard “Because I said so”’ response is wearing thin on their recalcitrant teens.

Apparently, if you want teens to listen to you and do what you say, the secret is not what you say but how you say it.

Dr Netta Weinstein of Cardiff University in the UK and her team conducted experiments on 1,000 young people aged 14 to 15.

They played the same phrases to the teens, eg “It’s time now to go to school”, “You will read this book tonight”, and “You will do well on this assignment”, but using three different tones of voice: controlling, neutral and ‘autonomy-supportive’. (Autonomy-supportive is, as the name suggests, a parenting style that is designed to encourage developing autonomy in someone by considering their point of view and acknowledging their feelings.)

The researchers found that the teens had better emotional, relational, and behavioral intention responses when they were spoken to in the autonomy-supportive voice.

They also felt more positive and experienced increased closeness.

As well as being helpful for parents and authority figures such as teachers wanting to get through to kids, the study also has implications for the quality of parent-child relationships, adolescent well-being, and their engagement.

When they were spoken to in a controlling manner, the teens experienced correspondingly negative emotions and outcomes. 

The study’s lead author, Dr Weinstein, said: “If parents want conversations with their teens to have the most benefit, it’s important to remember to use supportive tones of voice. It’s easy for parents to forget, especially if they are feeling stressed, tired, or pressured themselves.”

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