By David Pflughoeft Special to Published Jan 12, 2008 at 5:13 AM

"One if by land, two if by sea."

This was the signal that was used by revolutionary patriots to determine if the British army was coming by land or by waterway. This signal also launched Paul Revere's legendary midnight ride. The message was communicated clearly and concisely and was simple, leaving no room for error.

Successful communication was imperative for our country's birth. Communication with your teen is just as important. However, it's rarely as easy or concise as Revere's message.

Understanding the difficulties of communication between teens and parents begins with understanding how teenagers communicate with other teens.

Teens communicate with their peers in a much different fashion than they do with their parents or other adults and authority figures. Slang is used frequently and differently by different groups of friends, as is "ribbing." Ribbing is making fun of another friend using knowledge of past events or embarrassing situations that this friend experienced. Physical features are also used. Parents need to understand that other friends are not being "attacked," but that it's just one way that teens relate to one another.

The slang that teens use depends on who they are hanging out with at the moment. Each group of friends uses different terms and phrases. Many times it's just a funny phrase that might not even make sense, but is repeated constantly. For example, one group of my friends uses odd phrases like "gurt, flirt on my nirt." It has absolutely no meaning, but when with this group of friends it's understood and is funny.

Another way that teens communicate with friends is online. AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) is an instant messaging program, while Facebook and MySpace are easy and popular ways that teens post pictures and other fun information that their friends might be interested in. These are also easy ways to keep in touch with any friend that has moved away or gone off to college.

Recently however, text messaging has become the foremost method of communication between teens. In fact, most teens forgo calling a friend on the phone to talk and just text them instead. Personally speaking, my mother cannot understand this. She told me she used to spend hours every night talking with girlfriends and can't understand why I don't "talk" with my friends.

Actually, I just "talk" in a different way to them. Texting is much easier than it seems, and when texting, you can hold conversations with as many people as you please. It's also quiet, so you can talk to people while watching a movie or in any other quiet setting.

The basic scenario for a group of teens hanging out at a friend's house is: People ripping on each other constantly, slang terms and phrases shouted across the room at random, and people texting other friends. (Strange, but true.)

Adults expect teenagers to communicate with them in a much different manner than their friends do. Adults and parents want full, informed responses presented in a clear, intelligible manner. Breaking this barrier is very challenging as most teens seem to have very little interest in talking with their parents, but that's not really the case. It's just hard to get them started. An easy way to be able to get to talk with your teen is to find common ground, something that you both like to talk about.

If your son is interested in sports, begin a conversation about the Packers and how they might do in the playoffs. If your daughter is very interested in clothing and jewelry, as a mother, ask her about which new earrings you should get or what style of clothes would be good for you. Use this type of conversation as a transition to another issue you might want to talk about. A few other things that teens are interested in include movies, music, and cars.

Another huge point of contention in teen / parent communication is tone of voice. This is a big factor that can set both sides on edge. Even though most often neither party starts out upset, a perceived harsh or accusing tone of voice can quickly escalate the conversation into an argument. When talking to your teen, you absolutely have to mind your tone of voice. Teens are sensitive, filled with emotions and can very quickly become angry. Make a conscious effort to keep you tone upbeat, instead of critical.

Another way to avoid confrontation and to ensure a quality talk is to choose your timing carefully. If your teen comes home and slams his or her door, it's probably not the best time to talk about a sensitive issue. It is a good time to make small talk and comfort, but wait until you teen has calmed down and in a better mood to bring up a big issue.

Teens aren't opposed to talking with their parents, it's just a matter of timing, tone, and topic. One last suggestion is to give them something to smile about during their day. When my dad first got his new cell phone, he texted me in the middle of the day, his message saying "Hi." I responded with "Hey, what's up?" In return I received, "Hi." I kept receiving that same message. My dad couldn't figure out how to text anything other than a preset message. It made me laugh and when we sat down at the dinner table that night, we were in good spirits and were able to laugh and talk.

I'm happy to teach him how to text better -- but only if he asks with the right tone at the right time after we talk about the Packers...

David Pflughoeft Special to
David Pflughoeft is a 17-year-old junior at Menomonee Falls High School, where he plays football, baseball and basketball. He also is passionate about video games and writing. His stories have appeared in newspapers across the country.