Talk & Play

Older Children & Teens

During adolescent years, communication skills continue to grow and mature. This is the fastest period of brain development and change since they were babies and toddlers. Young people still need support to develop the language, listening and communication skills they will need for adulthood.

As young people move towards adolescence, it is a normal part of their development that they will start to take steps towards independence, and this often means they become more interested and influenced by their peers than their parents.

Your child may talk to you less about how they are feeling and what they have been doing. Parents and carers can feel like there is a ‘language barrier’ between them and their child. You may need to change your own communication style to keep the lines of communication open. You shouldn’t panic – continue to show that you are interested in what is happening for your child and make the most of time together.

Communicating With Your Teen

Your child may have been a chatterbox up until now or may have always been a quieter person. Adolescence can often make communicating with adults feel trickier for young people.

This does not mean that they don’t have lots of thoughts and feelings and ideas to share. How we talk with young people can help them be more open and confident.

  • Pick your moment – tired, hungry teenagers will not be chatty.
  • Start conversations when you are doing something else – driving along, walking the dog, cooking – young people often struggle with too much eye contact.
  • Try to listen more than you speak – use open questions to encourage a bigger reply than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You could try asking ‘What was the best thing that happened at school today?’
  • Tap into their passions – it could be music, sport, or the environment. Let them know you are interested and want to hear about what is important to them.

Have a look at this information on the Teenage Brain. It can help to understand the developmental changes in young people’s brains that are happening at this time to make sense of how they might behave.

Take a look at the animations below which share a teenager and a parents views on communicating.  The last animation has lots of helpful tips to make communicating with your older child easier.

Dive Deeper

Building Communication Confidence

Having the confidence to communicate is important for our relationships with family and friends, but also with teachers, health professionals and employers.

You can help your teenager to build confidence and skills by giving your full attention when they want to talk, and listening to their feelings and opinions, as well as giving them the opportunity to talk to all sorts of people, in all sorts of ways.

  • Get them to make phone calls to book their appointments – practice beforehand what they might need to say. Stay close by for reassurance until they have done this a few times.
  • Take them to visit elderly relatives and neighbours with you. Encourage them to listen to and ask questions about the other person.
  • Encourage them to sometimes play with siblings, younger relatives or family friends. 
  • Encourage them to volunteer to help with younger children at school or after school activity.
  • Avoid ‘speaking for them’ at any appointments or parents evenings.
  • Part-time jobs when they are old enough can really help grow communication confidence.

Some children will find this easier than others. Praise your child for trying, reassure them that everyone feels shy and awkward sometimes. The more communication opportunities they have, the more skills they will learn.


Your child may be keen to avoid family mealtimes at this age, but eating together is a good way of keeping a strong connection between you all. Even if you can’t manage it every day a few times a week will make a difference.

Sticking to boundaries of no phones or screens at mealtimes will make the most of this time. Mealtimes do not have to last for long – you can set a good conversation example in a short time.

Even if your child is not keen to join in the conversation they can listen to yours:

  • Keep it varied; talk about day to day life, sport, books, films, as well as things that are happening in the news.
  • Talk about feelings – your own and those of others – let your child hear lots of words to describe feelings. This will make it easier for them to describe how they feel and understand others.
  • Use humour and silliness – at around this age children begin to understand and enjoy sarcasm, good hearted teasing and ‘in jokes’.


Your child may not call it play anymore but the time they spend with family and friends still helps them learn how to communicate effectively.

They may continue to take part in out of school or sport activities. Maybe they like to go to the park to meet friends and are enjoying a little more freedom.

Helping them understand the importance of following family rules and boundaries can prepare them for the expectations on how they will need to behave as adults in further education and work.

You could play:

  • A multi-player computer game – maybe one that gets you all moving?
  • Card or board games. Games like Monopoly can really spark that competitive spirit in young people – and their parents!
  • Watching a film together and then talk about what you thought – give it a rating.

Screen Time

Young people may want to spend more time in their room; playing on game consoles, talking to friends or using social media. You may need to negotiate with them and make a plan, to ensure that there is a balance between time spent alone, time being with friends and family time.

This is an important stage as young people continue to learn how to mix and get along with different people. The ways we communicate has changed so much in recent years and parents and their children are learning how to manage this at the same time as each other.

Young people have more ways to be in touch than ever before.

  • They can text and instant message friends and family.
  • They can ‘talk’ to and make friends with people they have never met.
  • Young people can stay connected even if they don’t live near their friends.
  • They can seek advice and support from their friends easily.
  • They can ‘meet’ a wide range of people with shared interests.

It is important to be aware that this can also:

  • Put them at risk from bullies 24/7.
  • Mean they are vulnerable to ‘grooming’ by harmful individuals.
  • Stop them from getting practice ‘reading’ people’s body language and speaking out loud.
  • ‘Text Speech’ can be easily misunderstood causing upset and worry.

This is not the case for all children. Talk openly about what could happen so your child feels safe to come to you if they need to. You might want some of their online activities to take place in the ‘family rooms’ of your home. This means you can keep an eye on what they are doing. They will have you nearby if any difficult situations happen.

Let them know they can come to you or another adult they trust if they feel worried or uncomfortable about anything that happens online.

Who can Help?

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday to Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below. 


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