Teaching Your Teen to Communicate

Respectfully Using Assertiveness


Does your teen express their thoughts and feelings when they disagree with friends or family? Do they ask for help when they need it? Do they know how to resist peer pressure? You may find communicating with your teen challenging at times. They may struggle with expressing themselves while respecting you and being able to empathize with others. In good news, there are things we can do to help our teens learn to be more assertive. Assertiveness is the ability to express your wants, needs and thoughts in a self-assured, direct manner while respecting what others want, need, and think (Noonan & Gaumer Erickson, 2018, p. 105). This 3-minute video introduces the concept of assertiveness, its definition, and some examples of how to support the development of assertiveness at school and at home.


When teens are either too passive or communicate too aggressively, they likely lack the ability to communicate respectfully through assertiveness. Learning specific assertiveness skills can help your child express their thoughts and feelings more effectively, build better friendships and relationships over time, and feel more connected to the people in their lives. Being assertive means that they can speak up for themselves and others, even when it is difficult. Whether it is helping your teen learn to ask for help when they are having difficulty in school, resisting peer pressure to do something they are uncomfortable with, or requesting time off from their afterschool job, the ability to assert themselves enables adolescents to respectfully express their needs, wants and thoughts.


Listen as McKenzie, a high school senior, explains what assertiveness is and shares how she was assertive with her supervisor at work.


To understand assertiveness, it’s important to also understand how passive, aggressive, and assertive communication styles differ. Many teens are unaware of the differences between these styles and confuse assertiveness for aggressiveness. As parents, we want our children to be able to identify these communication styles in others, but most importantly, in themselves.


Listen as Dr. Pattie Noonan introduces assertiveness and discusses the three types of communication. As you listen, think about how you might help your teen identify these types of communication in daily life.



Previously, McKenzie shared that assertiveness is both expressing your wants, needs, and thoughts while respecting others’ wants, needs, and thoughts. Part of being able to express ourselves effectively is being able to identify what we are feeling and why, and then respectfully communicate those feelings. We can help teens explore and better understand their emotions.


Dr. Noonan shares one way to help our teens describe the emotions they are experiencing. By understanding our feelings, we are better able to control how we act on and communicate those feelings. Think about how you could support your teen to identify feelings for a specific situation by encouraging them to determine the more complex emotions on the outer two rings of the Feeling Words Wheel.



Listen to Declan, a high school student, as he describes the Feeling Words Wheel and empathy. As you listen, consider situations when it might be helpful to use the Feeling Words Wheel to help your teen express themselves while empathizing with others.


Communicating in an assertive manner might seem difficult at first. In this five-minute video, Dr. Noonan suggests teaching your teens to use a three-part statement. Using this recipe, students can communicate their wants, needs, and thoughts, while respecting what others want, need and think.

No one is assertive in every interaction, but giving teens practice in using a three-part assertive statement can help ensure that when they need to be assertive, they know how to do so. Dr. Noonan also discusses setting personal boundaries. These protective assertions promote healthier relationships and limit your teen’s chances of doing things they may regret.


Next Steps

Now that you’ve learned about assertiveness and how it can help your teen communicate more effectively, consider the following steps to support your teen in developing assertiveness:


  1. After watching a movie or show, or after interactions with others, talk with your teen about the types of communication they saw and how passive, aggressive, and assertive communications are received and interpreted.
  2. Download Assertiveness Resources for Home Learning to facilitate practice and learning at home. Included in this resource are links to both the Feeling Words Wheel and the 3-Part Assertive Statement resources.
  3. Consider a discussion with your teen about the need for protective assertions, or personal boundary statements. Support them in identifying what boundaries are important to them, and have them practice creating corresponding 3-part assertive statements.
  4. Consider roleplaying scenarios like asking for time off at work, expressing a concern to a friend, or requesting an extension on an assignment from a teacher so that your teen can practice being assertive in many areas of life.
  5. Share examples from your own life where you were either too passive or too aggressive, and how assertiveness might have resulted in a better outcome.