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Communicating With Your Teen: Using OARS to Connect Through Communication

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As a parent of teenagers, one of the more challenging aspects of parenting a teen is how to communicate with them. As children, it was fairly simple and straight forward. Piece of cake.

But as they have developed into teenagers, there are a lot of changes going on that can make communicating with a teen an interesting adventure. This is a time of:

  • Rapid brain development,

  • Massive hormonal dump, and

  • A striving for independence while being unconsciously frustrated that they know they still need their parents.

Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you communicate with your teen more effectively. And effective communication brings with it connection.

Connection with teenage kids is one of the challenges many parents face in family therapy. Teenagers may deny it but it's also something that they talk about in teen counseling.

Learning to communicate with your teen can go a long way in connecting with your teen.

Using OARS to Improve Communication with Your Teenager

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Motivational Interviewing is a therapeutic approach that has a mountain of research supporting its effectiveness. One core strength of Motivational Interviewing is that it's designed to reduce resistance and defensiveness. And it works!

I use Motivational Interviewing in my teen therapy sessions. I have also used it in residential treatment centers when working with teenagers.

There are many different elements of Motivational Interviewing but one that works well with teens is OARS. OARS is an acronym that stands for:

  • Open Ended Questions

  • Affirm

  • Reflect

  • Summarize

Open Ended Questions

One of the first things we learn in our education in becoming a therapist is the difference between open ended questions and closed ended questions.

A closed ended question is asked in a way that invites one word answers. For example, if you wanted to ask your teenager how school was, a closed ended question may sound like:

  • "So, how was school?"

I know when I ask my teen boys, the answer I get is "good", "boring", or other very insightful responses!

Open ended questions are asked in a way that invites more information. For example, if you want to ask your teenager how school was, an open ended question may sound like:

  • "So, tell me what went well in school today and what didn't go so well."

When I ask this question, I get so much more information from my boys. It also gives me the opportunity to have a conversation about school. This helps me to connect with my boys in that moment in time.

And connection is often about small moments of connecting consistently over time.


Affirming is a great way to reduce defensiveness. Affirming needs to be used in a way that does not sound patronizing and is genuine. Teenagers can sniff out disingenuousness a mile away and the walls will go up.

When talking with your teen, affirm their experience. If they had a tough day at school, instead of focusing on how you want to respond, affirm their experience:

  • "I know biology can be a very boring class. And good job for continuing to go. I know that's not easy to sit through a boring class day after day."

  • "You worked really hard in math class and it's so awesome it showed that in the A that you got!"

You can affirm the not so good as well as the good that they report. Affirming helps your teenager know that you are listening and understanding.


Reflecting is a great skill to use throughout your communication with your teenager. When they are talking with you and before you respond with what you want to say, reflect what you heard them say.

When you reflect, do it by way of a statement rather than a question. If you got it wrong, they will correct you but it shows that you are intently listening to what they are saying:

  • Parent: "Biology class is boring because you don't like the subject material."

  • Teen: "No, I like biology it's just hard to understand the teacher."

  • Parent: "Ah, it's not the material it's your teacher that makes it boring."

  • Teen: "Yup"


Summarizing at the end of the conversation is another good way to show that you were listening. Usually summarizing is 3-4 sentences of what you heard. Again, this would be in the form of statements and not questions.

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Katy Teen & Family Counseling: Teen Therapy & Family Counseling in Katy, Tx & Houston

If you are finding that no matter what you try, the communication with your teen results in arguments, conflicts, or fights, teen counseling or family therapy can help.

There are answers and communication is one of the more common challenges parents face with their teens today. As a result, we have worked with many teens and parents to help improve communication which helps improve connection.

With 70+ years of combined experience in teen therapy and family counseling, our therapists are here to help.

If you are ready to start teen counseling or young adult therapy at our Katy, Tx location of Katy Teen & Family Counseling, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:

  1. Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling

  2. Talk with one of our caring therapists

  3. Start the healing today

Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling

At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we provide a variety of therapy approaches that are supported by research and shown to be effective. Some of the teen therapy and young adult counseling we offer are:

Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy

Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)

Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)

Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART)

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)

Group Therapy for Teens

Body Image

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling

To succeed in any relationship takes work. This is a common understanding that many of us have.

However, sometimes life will throw challenges at us that create situations that put strain on our marriage or relationship. It may be due to:

  • Choices and actions that have been made by one partner.

  • Financial downturn in the economy creating financial strain.

  • Feeling like you're growing apart.

  • Feeling like you don't have as much in common as you used to.

Whatever the reason may be, marriage counseling and couples therapy can help. Couples therapy and marriage counseling has also been found to work in less time than individual therapy can.

If you've worked hard for this relationship and find that there are now barriers in the way of maintaining a healthy relationship, contact us at Katy Teen & Family Counseling.

About the Author

A man sitting at a desk, his right arm resting on the desk in front of him and across his body, his left arm and fist under his chin, he is wearing a pink polo shirt, silver watch, glasses, has a beard and is smiling. He provides social anxiety treatment katy, tx and emdr for depression katy, tx 77494. He also provides emdr for anxiety katy, tx and anxiety treatment katy, tx 77494.

Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker - Supervisor (LCSW-S), Board Certified in Neurofeedback, EMDR trained, and a Certified Brain Health Professional through the Amen Clinics. He has provided therapy to teens, young adults, and families since 2003 and is the Owner & Lead Clinician at Katy Teen & Family Counseling and Katy Counseling for Men.

He specializes in leading teams of high performing therapists who also specialize in teen therapy, counseling young adults, and family counseling.

Jason is also a leader in the field of teen, young adult, and family counseling providing expert coaching and technical assistance to teen Residential Treatment Centers across the country.

Jason is also a regular contributor to various magazines and publications lending his expertise to various mental health related topics. You can check these articles out on our "Featured Articles" service page on our website.

He has also been a guest on Fox 26 Houston and on a podcast, "Grow a Group Practice" with Alison Pidgeon.

If you are ready to start teen counseling or young adult therapy call, text, or email us today!

Phone Number: 281-519-6364

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