Article Written By: Julie Reichenberger
Are you struggling to talk to your teen? Does your teen shut you down or get frustrated and angry when you ask questions?
The truth is, many teens don’t want to talk with their parents or caregivers because it isn’t a pleasant experience for them (or you). For many reasons, teen and parent/caregiver communication can be challenging and frustrating.
(For the sake of ease, parent will be used throughout this article to refer to biological, adoptive and step parent as well as other caregiver types.)
Adolescence (middle school and high school years) is a time when teens are discovering who they are, they are connecting with friends and branching out from home. This is typical teen behavior and that includes confiding in their peers and often times other adults outside the home.
Both teens and parents are wanting to communicate with each other, and wanting to be understood.
If parents aren’t able to meet the teens where they are and be open to their teen as they are and be open to their teen as they are, this can be a very discouraging process.
Many parents try “expertly advised” ways to get their teens to talk to them such as talking to them while driving or engaging in another activity, asking them creative questions about their day, watching a television show with them and asking questions.
While these attempts to better engage with teens may be helpful for some in the short run, they may not work for all teens long-term.
Bottom line, having a healthy relationship and communication takes work and it is worth the work.
The therapists at Denver Metro Counseling have provided teen therapy, family therapy and parent support for the Denver Metro area and for residents throughout Colorado and here’s what they have learned from teens.
5 common reasons teens say they don’t want to talk to their parents.
1. My parent doesn’t listen to me.
One of the most frustrating things for teens is not feeling heard or actually not being heard by parents.
Ask yourself these questions:
- When my teen talks, am I distracted with my own agenda for them; what I think is best?
- When they ask for space do I follow them and attempt to make them talk to me?
- When they say they are hurt do I try to fix it?
- Do I make a joke out of something they think is serious?
- Do I take them seriously?
If you said yes to any of these, your teen probably doesn’t feel heard by you. This will shut them down, just as it would shut you down.
Listen to your teen and do your best to just listen; not respond or talk.
When they say they need space or a time out to gather their thoughts or settle down, give it to them – check in on them after a few minutes.
You may think what you have to say is important but does that keep you from hearing your teen and getting to know them?
2. My parent will just try to fix it (or me).
Parents want to help and sometimes your teen needs that from you.However, unless they ask for advice, most of the time your teen just wants to talk through something without hearing advice from you, suggestions on how to fix a problem or how it was for you back in the day.
Wanting to help your teen by providing suggestions comes from a very well-intended place. You don’t want your teen to fail, get hurt, or learn the hard way. You want them to have all the tools they need to be successful.
The downside of offering your teen unsolicited advice is that they don’t learn to trust their own abilities to problem solve. And in turn, you lose the opportunity to see your teenager think through their concerns or struggles.
Did you want to hear your parent’s advice? Sometimes, absolutely! It was probably received better when you asked for; at a time when you were ready or wanted to hear it.
And it’s the same for teens today. Teens want to vent frustrations, verbalize wonderings, and talk out loud about everything and nothing when it feels safe to do so; which they decide based on experiences of trying to do so.
So, what do you do when you are worried about your teen?
Listen to them, let them know you are there for them if they ever want your help. Let them know you if you don’t know the answer you can figure it out together.
If they don’t ask for help, just listen and try to withhold judgment.
If they ask what they should do you can put it back on them and ask questions such as:
- What have you thought of?
- Have you or anyone else been through this before?
- What worked for you or them in the past?
Guiding your teen in this way, leads to improved problem-solving skills, increased self-esteem, and allows you to see how their mind works.
3. When I try to talk to my parent they make it about them.
Do you find yourself going into story-telling when your teen shares something that is familiar to you? When I was your age…
Or, another example of this is using emotions to try to persuade our teen into doing something or not doing something, “When you cut it hurts me.”
It is hard to see and hear your teen struggling. And, It isn’t about you; it’s about your teen, so make the focus about them. Their experience is unique to them.
Teens have also reported that they don’t want to talk to their parent about their struggles, because their parent will cry.
This is a natural way of expressing emotions which is good overall. Your teen needs to see that you feel emotions, and, they also need to know that their parent can handle what they have to say.
They need to know that you can handle their emotions, big and small. They need to be able to feel you can support them, not as though they have to take care of you and your emotions.
If you notice your teen shutting down when you are feeling your own worry, fear and sadness, take a deep breath and check in with them.
4. My parent gets mad at me.
Using punishment and anger as a threat to illicit changes in your teen can be harmful to their emotional development and your relationship.
Being angry with your teen is okay. However, if your teen is trying to open up to you and you respond with anger instead of managing your emotions and listening with curiosity, they are going to stop trying pretty quickly.
Express your concerns with love and care. If they are talking to you that is a win.
Take time to sort through your anger and other feelings and find time to talk about your concerns with your teen after you have heard them through.
5. My parent won’t be able to help me.
This is a concern often expressed by both teens and their parents. Parenting can be especially challenging when you don’t know how to help your teen, despite wanting to.
Sometimes teens and parents need outside professional help to talk through tough situations like teen therapy, family therapy or even parent support therapy.
If your teen is struggling with depression, anxiety, self-injury, body image issues, disordered eating, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts, seeking professional help from a therapist can be most helpful.
Sometimes parents aren’t the best support for the teens specific concerns for a variety of reasons. This can be hard for some parents to accept and hear from their teen.
Sometimes you aren’t the best person to help your teen directly but you can help them identify a supportive adult who might be able to help them whether it is another parent, coach, teacher, school counselor, teen therapist or when appropriate, a peer or group of peers.
If you want a chance at connecting better with your teen, notice them. Watch for behavior changes and most importantly, listen when they speak. You might actually learn something from them, and get to know who your teen is and what’s going on in their life.
To learn more about connecting with your teen, or if you have concern for your teen who may be struggling with teen depression, anxiety, school-related stress, peer conflict, learning challenges or want to learn more about supports for you or your teen, reach out to our teen therapists in Denver today.
Julie is the owner of Denver Metro Counseling and has been working with teens and adults since 2006. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Associate Certified Coach, Approved Clinical Supervisor, EMDR Certified and an EMDR Consultant in Training.
Julie specializes in working with trauma, suicide risk, ADHD, anxiety, depression, and supporting other therapist through personal and professional growth.
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of Denver therapists who provide teen therapy, young adult therapy, adult therapy, family therapy and other counseling and therapy in Denver and throughout Colorado.
We specialize in relationships, codependency, communication and boundaries and provide supportive therapy for people struggling with life transitions, trauma, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, negative body image, and more.
Our clinicians are trained and comfortable working with people who struggle with thoughts of suicide and work collaboratively with our clients and their loved ones to maintain safety through a trauma-informed approach.