Brenda Yoder, MA

Brenda is a writer, speaker, and educator. She has a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a BA in Education.

Communicating with teens involves decoding their language and irrational comments.  Trying to understand what they are NOT saying is often the challenge.

My first-born attends college eleven hours away from home.  Her first phone-call home was filled with tears and “I want to come home.”


After getting off the phone with her, I opened a drawer where I kept small things I sent her each week.  They were simple things I knew she would like.  A bookmark, a hair-ribbon, a package of stationary.  Her love-language is “gifts,” so sending these things was a way to speak love to her.

In those early weeks, I also had her brothers write simple notes to her, though they protested, “Can’t I just just text her?”  My answer, of course, was “No.”  I believe in the power of words.

The next day, I grabbed a trinket, a note of encouragement, sealed it up in a flat-rate shipping box, and sent it off to her. Love in the mail.

I texted my daughter and told her to look for the special care-package in the mail.

She texted back, “Does is have a spoon?

Does it have a spoon?” I thought.  Then I remembered she asked me to send her a spoon a few weeks prior and I forgot.  The care package had lots of things, but not a spoon.

As a mom, I realized “Does it have a spoon?” meant other things:

  • She was saying, “Will you take care of me?
  • She needed something from home that connected her to her family (A plastic spoon from Walmart wan’t what she was asking for).
  • Each child has individual differences.  She was my child who feels love by small things, like spoons.
  • Children speak in coded-language.  We are wise parents if we listen to the things they are saying yet not speaking.

I told my daughter she could buy a non-plastic one at Target for a couple of dollars.  She argued with me on the certainty of that and when I realized that wasn’t the issue for her, I told her I would send her one if she didn’t want to buy one.

Her response was one I expected, “Okay, send me one from home.”

She validated my my motherly hunches, and I sent a spoon in the mail.

Raising teens and young adults requires active listening, reading between the lines and understanding non-verbal communication.  When strange statements or comments happen (like “Will you send a spoon?”), asking yourself, “What are they really saying?  What do they need?” are questions that will help in understanding them.

My daughter has grown a lot in understanding herself from her freshman to junior-year in college.  She no longer asks for spoons, but is able to say, “Mom, can we set aside a time to call when I can ask you a few things?” As teens develop through each stage, their understanding of themselves and their needs increase, but not without some decoding from parents.

The next time your Tween or Teen says something irrational, try listening with different ears, asking yourself, “What else are they saying?”  It’s part of the mystery of parenting teens.

What are lessons you’ve learned in communication?  How do you decipher your teen’s language?

What do you think?

4 Responses to “Communicating with Teens: Decoding the Irrational”

  1. Kirstin Stokes Smith Says:

    A lovely post, Brenda. Brought to mind my first year away and how I cherished everything I got in the mail. I love technology, but I often think about how I want to instill in my son the value of sending a handwritten note, or a care package. It’s been over twenty years and I still have many of the letters, cards, and notes friends and family sent to me!

  2. Brenda Yoder, MA Says:

    I keep them, too. Boxes and boxes. I still make my children write notes on special occasions. There’s something intrinsic about it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Friday Chat: Piecing, Publishing, and Pouring Out | Life Beyond the Picket Fence Says:

    [...] “Communicating with Teens: Decoding the Irrational” - reminders about what teens are saying behind the words they say. [...]

  4. Mary Anne Ostrum Says:

    Our oldest is a senior in High School so I haven’t experienced the long term living away from mom syndrom. But she did stay with her grandparents 1500 miles away for a month and I had quite a few decoding phone calls in that month. I figured out what she needed, without her mentioning it directly and solved the problem. BUT she also spent 2 weeks with another set of grandparents about a month ago and what I thought was a coded message apparently was NOT and it became a mess. So my question is: How can you tell?! (that, ofcourse, is a facetious question).
    I listen to intonation and also the unusualness of the comment in that particular situation, like the spoon.
    One day they will mature enough that the games will be over… may be.
    Thanks for sharing.

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