How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Your Teenager Without Breaking the Relationship

Want to become more effective in the difficult conversations in your life? Sometimes our conversations don’t play out that well, run off the rails, and people leave feeling demoralized or belittled. We know what it’s like to walk away from a conversation that we are still carrying hours, days, or even years later. That is why we’ve created this FREE resource entitled 15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations into Win-Win Dialogue  It will help you start to navigate even the most challenging discussions. Click here to download the guide now!


Your relationship with your child—no matter what their age—is one of the most important relationships you have.

I have six children. My wife and I saw them all through the teenage era of life, and I am proud to say we made it through successfully.

I have a strong relationship with each of my now adult children, but that is not to say there were no bumps along the way.

Teenagers are at a transitional time in their life. They are trying to figure things out, and like it or not—they need our help.

They may feel awkward or insecure about how things are going, and often, this leads to poor decisions.

Our job as parents is to address those decisions.

That said, as you approach a difficult conversation with your teen, it is important not to put the relationship at risk.

Difficult conversations are difficult, but there are ways to have them without jeopardizing the relationship.

First—build your relational bank account.

Stephen Covey, the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, teaches on the concept of relational back accounts.

He talks about how all relationships are like bank accounts. It is important to the relationship that we make relational deposits because inevitably, we will need to make withdrawals.

The nature of a relationship with a teenager nearly guarantees times of relational account withdrawals.

Like we have already acknowledged, teenagers don’t always make great decisions.

They are in an awkward place in life. They are going to fail—and sometimes miserably.

As parents, we are going to have to have difficult conversations with our teenagers about those moments.

The question really becomes—what is the state of our relationship when we need to have those conversations?

Keep in mind, your teenager is going to experience any difficult conversation as a withdrawal. If there is no equity in your relationship, you are going to break the bank.

Often, rebellion from our teenagers is symptomatic of their belief that we are no longer for them.

Their behavior is an attempt to step outside of our leadership.

Again, we view it as rebellion—they are viewing it as a survival skill.

As a parent of a teenager, you need to make it a priority to strengthen that relational equity.

Work overtime to make deposits. Look for opportunities to encourage them. Make them feel good about who they are and what they are accomplishing.

Sometimes, with the season of life they are in—that can be a challenge.

A lot of your “knee-jerk” reactions may be to correct their behavior or thinking.

And truth be told—as a parent, you are going to need to set boundaries and deal with problems as they come up.

Just be careful about how many withdrawals you are making relative to the number of deposits.

An overdrawn account will result in a broken relationship.

Your teenagers are following your cue.

When you start a conversation with a teenager, you don’t always know where it is going to end up.

Often, the issue in a conversation is not the real issue.

I remember times when driving home from school, my teenage son or daughter would throw out the wildest questions or statements.

Often, they were just wanting to see how I would react.

Teenagers love to test their limits, and yours.

My response often determined how the conversation would go.

If I would “react” to the question by blowing up or getting defensive—the conversation stopped as quickly as it had started.

If I casually approached the dialogue, asking where they were coming from and what was prompting the question—we would get so much further and closer to the heart of the matter.

Quote: "As a parent of a teenager, you need to make it a priority to strengthen that relational equity."

Are you listening?

Often the places you go in a conversation with your teenager will make you feel uncomfortable.

Part of being a good listener is making room for their points of view.

When they say something you do not like, or when they are experiencing something that is painful or overwhelming to you—do you have the ability to manage yourself so that your reaction or emotions in the moment don’t overtake the conversation?

How do you make room for their thoughts when you don’t like them, or even think they are dangerous?

My advice, let them talk and put their thoughts on the table.

Remember, however difficult, you want all of the information. The safer you can make the listening environment, the more effective the difficult conversation will be.

Recognize that each child is unique.

Having six children, I am highly aware of how different one child is from their sibling or friend.

It would be wonderful if every principle could be applied in the same way, with each child, and always procure the same result. The reality is—teenagers are wired differently.

How they communicate, how they process life, and how they relate to their emotions, is bound to be different.

How you frame a difficult conversation with them will be determined by who they are individually and where they are at.

However, in all cases—it is not about winning the argument.

The focus of a difficult conversation should not be on you making your point.

It shouldn’t be on winning, or even that the dialogue goes your way.

You want the conversation, at its heart, to be about strengthening your relationship.

A difficult conversation with your teenager is not something that you do “to” them—it is something that you do “with” them.

As parents, we want to take control. I get that.

It can be difficult if our teen is not in a healthy place or making really poor decisions.

Recognize, that as your children grow up—they are becoming young adults. Your role starts to shift. They are learning to practice independence, and you need to let them.

Build your relationship with your teenager in a way that strengthens your influence, but not your control.

If in a conversation, things start to get heated—give yourself and your teen permission to take a break. As soon as you feel that the conversation is becoming too destructive, take a timeout.

Sometimes, taking a few deep breathes and revisiting the topic after everyone has cooled down is the best method for success.

Difficult conversations with your teenager are difficult. That is not a reason to shy away from them.

They need you in their lives, and they want your input. They just don’t always know how to ask for it.

Keep making relational deposits and continue to approach those tough issues with them.

Your relationship is worth it.

These are just a few insights that will help you navigate those critical conversations in your life and career, but there’s so much more.

There are powerful tools that can really help you become more effective, and we at Ember Learning are here to help. With over 25 years of professional consulting in top businesses around the country, we want to share some of our top insights with you.

Download our FREE PDF “15 Ways to Turn Hard Conversations into Win-Win Dialogue” now!