Jess Hites

18 August 2020

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Why Doesn’t My Teen Want to Talk Anymore?

When I speak with parents of teens, one of their sources of sadness is that their teen doesn’t want to talk or hang out with them anymore. All of a sudden, the kid who wanted to recount every detail of his play-date, describe his musings of the world, and regale you with drama from school, is quiet and gives you one-word answers to your questions. Even though parents might know it’s coming, the pain of feeling ignored by your child can feel unbearable and blindsiding. If you feel like you haven’t had a recent moment where you and your son enjoyed each other, or you haven’t had a good chat with your daughter for ages, you are not alone! Fostering good communication with teens can be tricky, but it’s not impossible, and we’re going to talk about some concrete ways to help facilitate healthy communication below.

 

A teen’s developmental job is to become independent. As they prepare to leave the nest and enter the world as an adult, teens begin to test boundaries, challenge the people they know and love, and become more private than they used to be as children. Their brains are beginning to grapple with abstract concepts. Instead of turning to parents and family to develop their values, teens look to friends to discover their identity. At a crucial moment in development where the consequences of our actions are some of the riskiest teens clam up. This can leave parents feeling like they are on the outs when they are most needed. So how do we get the conversation flowing again? How do we foster a sense of safety in the relationship while still acknowledging a teen’s need for independence and autonomy?

 

Be genuine and focused with your teen.

Adolescents are looking for your undivided attention. We’re used to checking in while putting groceries away, cleaning up, and in between other things on our to-do list. Teens want to know you are listening and that you care about what they are saying. Even though it can be hard to take a few minutes to listen intently to what your child is saying in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life, it goes such a long way with them. When they see you engage with what they are discussing, they feel cared for, understood, and see you are in their corner.

 

Ask your teen direct questions.

One way to help your child feel like you are truly interested in them is by asking concrete questions with some structure. Questions like “How was your day today?” or “What did you learn today at school?” are wonderful questions for elementary children who often come home and can’t wait to tell you all about what happened in the day. These questions can feel overwhelming for teens; they’ve been thinking about so much that it’s hard to know where to start. Asking questions about specific things like “How was your math test today?” or “Were you able to work things out with Gina?” helps them narrow down their answer and shows them you are paying attention to the details of their life. Another more open-ended but still concrete question is, “What was a high of the week, and what was a low point this week?”

 

Acknowledge your teen’s perspective.

When your daughter complains about an incident with a friend or stressful classes at school, it’s normal to want to take away their stress and pain. Often this leads to us saying something like, “I think you’re reading into what Sally meant when she said {fill in the blank}” or “I’m sure you’re going to do great on your science test. You’ve done fine on the others, and you really like science.” To parents, these phrases sound reassuring and encouraging. For teens, these well-meaning replies make them feel like their parents are questioning their judgment, standing up for someone else, or are just not listening. Instead of trying to smooth over the worry and frustration, try identifying the feeling they are expressing and name it for them.

 
Saying something like, “Wow, it sounds like when Sally said …. you felt embarrassed, frustrated, or hurt. It really sucks when our friends are insensitive sometimes.” Or “Man, there is just a lot of pressure and stress when you’re getting ready for a test, no matter how good you are at a subject. Not knowing the outcome of your hard work is always a little nerve-wracking.” After you’ve acknowledged how they are thinking and feeling about a situation, you can do a bit of indirect redirecting like “I wonder what Sally was thinking about when she said that?” and come up with multiple options. Or for something like a math test reassuring your son with “No matter what happens with your test, we can figure out a good way to move forward afterward.”

 

Plan activities to do together.

Adolescents seek more privacy and autonomy, which often means they want to talk on their own terms. Planning something fun with your teen once a week makes them feel like you’ve set this time aside for them and allows them to be prepared to engage with you. It can be as simple as going for a run together, working on a paint-by-numbers project, or trying out a class you both will enjoy. Not every week will deliver an amazing discussion about what’s happening in their life, but creating the routine and space allows you both to enjoy each other and have those deeper conversations when needed.

 

A thriving relationship with your teens is possible, and implementing these tips is a great way to get back on track with your teen. By understanding and respecting their perspective, creating moments of fun and lightheartedness, and taking time to direct your full attention to your teen, you can nurture the bond between you. These tricks reassure them that yours is a safe relationship, and you are a trustworthy person to confide in.

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