10 Ways to Improve Your High-Schooler’s Communication Skills

By Lexi Walters Wright

Communication skills are important for high-schoolers. Teachers, college admissions staff, and employers expect high school students to be able to clearly communicate. If your child is having trouble, these strategies can help.

1. Make time to keep talking to your high-schooler.

Between school, sports, service projects, jobs, and other activities, it may be difficult to find time to talk. And once your high-schooler drives? You can probably say goodbye to those opportunities to chat while you rode or walked together.

But it’s still important to keep conversations going. Talking with you is good practice for the interactions your teen has with people outside your family. Choose a time that regularly works for the two of you to schedule weekly walk-and-talks or family dinners (with no screens), for example.

2. Talk about the news.

Even if your teen doesn’t read the newspaper, news events will be broadcast on TV and the radio. They may also come up on social media and in discussions in and out of the classroom. 

Teens who struggle with language may be reluctant to be a part of conversations about current events. Talking about the news with your child can make a difference. These conversations can help teens sort out their thoughts on a particular subject. And on a personal level, you’ll make it easier for your teen to voice an opinion.

3. Enforce good listening skills.

Now, more than ever, your child is expected to pay full attention when someone else is talking. Teachers, guidance counselors, and coworkers want to make sure that what they say is understood. Encourage your teen to politely ask questions if something was hard to hear or comprehend. 

And while your child is talking to you, try to give yourfull attention. Demonstrate what good listening looks like, in addition to how it sounds.

4. Show your teen ways to find conversational common ground.

Young adults may find themselves expected to make small talk with adults. That can feel daunting for a child with communication issues. Finding commonality with a speaker takes practice. 

After your child finishes telling you something, repeat back part of what was said. Next, follow up with a related question: “Next week’s quiz sounds hard. How will you study?” Then talk about your day and have your teen ask you something related. Over time, this can feel more natural and less forced.

5. Use social media to help your teen prepare for a conversation.

Does your teen use social media, such as Instagram or Snapchat? If so, the photos and videos posted by peers can be good conversation starters for the next time they meet: “Hey, how was your ski trip?” And teens who don’t usually start conversations may be more approachable when their peers see their updates.

6.  Help your teen prepare for likely conversations.

A teen who can anticipate social situations will feel more confident walking into them. Whether it’s a college fair or the prom, help your child practice what to say to other people, and when, during the event. Show your teen how to adjust both the tone and the topics of conversation. Is the conversation with adults or with other teens? Take turns “playing” each person so your child can think through different scenarios and responses.

7. Explain body language to your child.

Kids who struggle with communicating may have trouble picking up on nonverbal cues. Sometimes these cues are called body language. They may not even totally understand their own body language. But body language can affect how your child is perceived in interviews for colleges, programs, or jobs.

You can help your child get ready for an interview by practicing together. Take video of your child answering practice questions. (You can borrow a video camera or video-enabled smartphone from your child’s school or your local library.) Then watch it together and come up with ideas for how your child can improve.

8. Play word games.

Lots of classic games emphasize words and vocabulary. These games are great for kids who learn and think differently. Plus, when kids play games that focus on language skills they may not be aware of how much interaction is going on with others because the game is so much fun.

Pictionary and charades ask players to draw or act out scenes while others guess what’s happening. They help kids focus on the nonverbal cues of people around them. Scrabble and Boggle encourage kids to create and find words from a set of given letters. Apples to Apples gets kids pairing funny words and actions. Taboo and Buzzword encourage players to think about related words and ideas.

9. Enjoy movies, books, and shows together.

Teens often have to talk about what they’re reading and watching. Anyone from friends, to employers, to college admissions staff might ask about this. It can help your child to feel ready to talk about it. 

Together, choose a book (print, electronic, or audio), movie, or even a live performance to experience. Afterward, replay the highlights: What did you each like and dislike about the plot and the characters? Did anything happen that your child didn’t understand? This engages your child in the story—an important skill when talking with others.

10. Encourage your child to keep a journal or blog.

Keeping a diary or journal is a low-stress way to express thoughts and feelings. Writing about day-to-day activities allows teens to think through their ideas. It can also help them feel more prepared and confident when it’s time to talk to others. The writing doesn’t have to be polished. It can be just a phrase, a list of ideas, or even a drawing.

Your teen may prefer to keep a private or public blog instead. Simple blogging tools, such as Kidblog, WordPress, and Tumblr, allow for combining words, pictures, videos, and links.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Lexi Walters Wright is the former Community Manager at Understood. As a writer and editor, she helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.