Communicating To Teenagers

have you ever had a hard time communicating to a teenager? they can be pretty intimidating. here are 5 rules for great communication with teenagers.

rule #1 - don’t try to engage them by reducing them to elementary forms

teenagers are smarter than you think. they can handle a lot of information and they are more intelligent than most of us think they are. you do not have to sacrifice content in your conversation with teens. that will cause them to lose interest quickly. talk to them as one adult to another. do not be tempted to reduce communication to an elementary form with adolescents.

there are three dangers in doing this. first, we can lose our platform with them because we are trying to water down the message. second, we can lose their interest because we have nothing to say that intrigues them. and finally, we take too practical and pragmatic of an approach to a generation that is always asking 'why'? teenagers can handle theory and critical thinking.

rule #2 - follow the general rules of effective communication

you can remove barriers by using some key manners: get to know their name, look them in the eye, listen to what they are saying, find the right time to talk with them, have an early understanding that their phones are public, and always ask them questions. teenagers actually love to talk. especially about themselves. the more you ask questions about themselves, the less you will have to talk. ask about their interests, about their favorite subject in school, the most formative moment in their life, and what they like to do with their free time.

here are several reminders that can remove barriers away from you and them. if your style is larger than the message, they will see you and not the message. if your language is more impressive than your message, they will listen to you but they will not hear the message. if your life is not consistent with your message, they will not listen to you.

rule #3 - risk being incarnate in a teen's world

one of the lost arts of communication is being incarnate. being present. the first step to winning in anything is to 'show up'. we must enter a teenager's world. but, save the temptation to be someone you are not. be yourself. they can smell a fake quickly. relationship and proximity is king. you cannot trade relevance for relationship. I have seen relevant people unable to relate. just because you know a lot about someone's culture, doesn't mean that you are able to communicate to them. you have to be in their world at some point.

go to athletic events, theatre performances, concerts, award ceremonies, and be where they are. they live in tribes. call it their squad, a clique, circles, or crews, these tribes are safe places for teens. the more you know about these tribes the easier it is to speak their language. they will listen to you if they know you are concerned about them.

rule #4 - INTER-generational V. MULTI-generational approach

all of us need to understand each other. the older generation should value the younger generation, and, the younger generation should honor the older generation. there is a difference between being multi-generational (the presence of different age groups) and inter-generational (the relationship of different age groups). we should strive to be INTER. address the new world (the teen's world) and the old one (the adult's world) with respect and honor.

here are several ways you can enter their world: search the internet, read magazines and newspapers, watch documentaries, get into the Social Media game, and spend as much time as you can with them. these things will acquaint you with their culture quickly. but, always remember, the difference is in the relationship and not just the understanding of culture or differences.

rule #5 - be complimentary and encouraging

the world that teenagers live in is unforgiving and nasty. I have often said that you can love a teenager and they will do anything for you. there is a wall between adults and teenagers that must be removed. by adults! be willing to find the beauty in the brokenness and the masterpiece in the mess. if you do that, you will see their eyes light up.

what is your perceived attitude toward teenagers? how do they see you? if you are like the rest of the world to them - critical, unforgiving, and not relevant. however, if they see us as a loving presence, we got 'em. maybe it will help for you to take a trip down memory lane and think about what it was like when you were a teenager. that should soften all of us as adults.


to be honest, the human condition hasn't changed much. try not to be jaded by what we see and appeal to the human condition and felt needs of teens. it takes time and resources to connect yourself, but, it's worth the effort. besides, if we do not connect with teens, we will lose them.

I hope these rules and principles will help you gain a few quick references to use to increase your communication with teenagers. there are 25 million of them in the U.S. so they are everywhere. and they have a lot of power in America. our ability to communicate to teenagers is the key to preparing them to leave a legacy of their own on this world.

Jeff Grenell