Teaching Teens Communication Skills That Will Benefit Them for a Lifetime

“Is there any 21st-century skill more important than being able to sustain confident, coherent conversation?” Teacher Paul Barnwell asks this question in an article for The Atlantic, where he goes on to boldly claim that as parents, teachers and other involved adults, we don’t teach teens how to effectively engage in conversations with others, much to their detriment. He believes that since students spend hours daily in front of electronic screens, they have lost the ability to develop interpersonal communication skills.

Communication means more than just exchanging information but also means understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. Even though one in three teens sends over 100 text messages a day , technology will never replace or even improve human face-to-face interaction. Teaching the next generation interpersonal communication skills prepares them for future success in school, relationships and on the job.

Effective communication is also less about talking and more about listening. Part of socialization includes learning how to clearly express your message so that it is received and understood exactly the way you intended. In addition, you also need to learn how to listen to gain the full meaning of what’s being said and to make the other person feel heard and understood.

According to a 2002 Child Trends Research Brief, the most consistent factor found to predict effective social skills among adolescents is warm and responsive parenting. In addition, having siblings can provide an opportunity for teens to develop social skills.

The following tips can help teenagers improve their communication skills. Some of these are “caught rather than taught”, but with a little encouragement as well as practicing some of these tips in interactions with your son or daughter, you can impart inter-personal skills to them, which will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

 

Have a Conversation with Your Teen about a Challenging Topic

The next time you talk together, ask him or her about their views on a deep or challenging topic and have him or her elaborate. Don’t allow short, one-word answers but encourage them to expand the point and effectively to communicate their message without just assuming you know what they mean. In fact, ask them to clarify any vague statements and to express themselves as clearly as possible.

 

Practice Engaged Listening

Since communication is a two-way street, learn how to convey your intended meaning and how to be an engaged listener. Teach them to pay attention to someone’s intonation as well as their mood. Making your listener feel like you understand them will help them develop a strong connection with you and promote enhanced communication. In turn, this helps you express yourself when it’s your turn to share.

 

Avoid Interrupting the Other Person

Listening is not the same thing as waiting your turn to chime in. Most people can tell by the other person’s facial expression if you’re paying attention or if your mind is elsewhere. If you’re just thinking about what you’re going to say without focusing on the other person’s thoughts, you might communicate you’re not interested or failing to really listen.

 

Use Effective Body Language

You can use effective body language by nodding, smiling and casually making affirming remarks that show that you are engaged in the conversation without interrupting. Such indications that you’re paying attention affirm to the listener that you’re hearing what’s being said. Make sure you use nonverbal communication that enhances what you’re saying or hearing but that doesn’t contradict it. For example, you shouldn’t shake your head ‘no’ if you’re saying ‘yes’.

 

Give Appropriate Feedback

At the appropriate moment, you can also repeat back a summary of what you understood the speaker to say in your own words. You can paraphrase, “If I’m hearing you correctly, what you are saying is…” and share in your own words what they told you. Then, let your conversation partner finish their thoughts.

 

Ask Thoughtful Questions

Questioning the speaker further shows your interest in the topic, which is helpful for giving constructive feedback. Ask clarifying questions in order to make sure you understand what’s being shared. This is different than just repeating back to your conversation partner what you think you heard, but also helps the listener express themselves more clearly or add on to anything they may not have realized needed clarification. This is obviously a two-way street and works for both the listener and speaker to enhance their communication skills.

 

Refrain from Questions that Are too Personal

While it’s helpful to ask someone questions to learn more about them, such as their friends, family or school, some people might feel uncomfortable sharing details about themselves that they feel are too personal. You can preface questions that might cross these boundaries with comments such as, “If you don’t mind me asking…” or “If you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to hear more about…” These comments will help the other person know you’re respecting their boundaries while still expressing an interest in them.

 

Be Assertive without Becoming Aggressive

Openly and honestly express your thoughts, feelings and needs while standing up for yourself and respecting the person you’re talking to. This can boost your confidence and develop your self-esteem and in general, improve the way you express yourself.

 

Don’t Give Unsolicited Advice

Nobody likes a know-it-all or someone who always offers advice that wasn’t requested. The more your teen does this, the more he or she will learn, albeit the hard way, that this type of communication adversely effects conversation. Encourage them that if someone wants their advice, they will ask for it.

 

Make your Point

This might seem counter-intuitive to some of the other points above, but one key trait your teen will need to learn is how to concisely share his or her thoughts.

You can help teach your teenager a myriad of other skills, but teaching them the basics of communication helps prepare them for life. Effective communication is the glue that helps you deepen your connections with others.

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