Every week in my office, I sit across from teens who say they can’t or don’t want to talk to their moms or dads, and I hear from parents who are wondering why their teen won’t talk to them. Both teens and parents are wanting to communicate with each other, but neither are having a pleasant experience in the process of trying.
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.
I began counseling teens in 2006 and here are 5 common reasons teens tell me 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. This goes beyond social media distractions – though that can be a factor.
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 bite your tongue. 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: I know you want to help and sometimes your teen needs that from you. Most of the time, your teen wants to just talk through something without hearing advice from you or how-to-fix-its. 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. Isn’t that how we learned though? Did we want to hear our parent’s advice? Sometimes, absolutely! But we received it better when we asked for it, not when they gave it to us unsolicited.
And it’s the same for teens today. Teens want to vent frustrations, verbalize wonderings, and talk out loud about everything and nothing. 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 them 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.” I know it is hard to see and hear your teen struggling. But parents, it isn’t about you: it’s about your teen, so make the focus all about them. Their experience is unique to them.
I also hear that a parent will cry when their teen tries to talk to them. This is a natural way of expressing emotions which is good overall. Your teen needs to see that you feel emotions, however, they also need to know that their parent can handle what they have to say. 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. 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. Don’t get me wrong, 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.
5 My [parent] won’t be able to help me.
This is a concern I hear from both teens and their parents. Parents wanting to know how to help their teen and not knowing what to do or how and teens knowing or feeling their parents won’t be able to help. Sometimes teens and parents need outside help to talk through tough situations. 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 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 learn a thing or two, or just 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 or want to learn more about supports for you or your teen, visit our website or the links below for more information. We provide parent support and counseling for teens and their families.
Visit these links for more information on the following:
Help for Depression
Help with Drug and/or Alcohol Use
Article written by: Julie Reichenberger