How Do I Get My Teen to Talk to Me?


One of the questions I get asked the most is “How do I get my teen to talk to me? All he/she does is grunt or give one word answers.” There’s no doubt about it; the teen years can be hard on family relationships. The sweet 8 year old who once told you everything, now has a life of his/her own. You have become “embarrassing” or “don’t understand.” As hard as this is for parents to hear or accept, this is a NORMAL part of adolescence. Teens are supposed to separate from their parents, figure out who THEY are, and what values are important to them. This also means not telling their parents everything, so make sure you are realistic in your expectations of what they tell you.

This is also a good time for you to explore other pursuits not related to your child(ren). Remember that painting class you never had time to take? Maybe now is the time. As your teen “needs” you less, it’s important that you take care of you, so that they feel okay while exploring their independence. Sometimes when you can take a step back, they are more likely to seek you out. It’s also important to recognize that your teen is not you, and pushing them to be who they are not leads to more tension.

Here are a few tips to stay in touch with your teens (even as they’re pushing you away):

Take interest in their interests. Teens have amazing passion, enthusiasm, opinions, and knowledge. Let them be your teacher, and share some of that knowledge with you. Ask for their opinions and perceptions. Just be careful not to get so involved in their interest that it is no longer “their thing.”

Maintain some family traditions. Perhaps your kids resist having dinner together every Friday night because now they want to be out with friends. Forcing them to be there can lead to a hostile environment. Find ways to salvage some of your traditions that don’t feel so limiting of their social development.

Don’t be afraid to limit screen time in your presence (especially in the car). Cars are often a great time for conversation. Not talking directly face-to-face can take the pressure off of conversation and make it easier. If your teen is on their phone and texting with friends, you lose that opportunity to engage.

Remove the phrase “why did you do that?” from your vocabulary. The reality is all of us do things that we shouldn’t have done or said, particularly teens. Rarely are you going to get a productive answer from “Why did you do that?” It generally makes your teen feel judged and less eager to talk with you further.

Don’t try to fix. Our teens are no longer helpless infants. When we fix problems for them, we send the message that they are incapable of handling things on their own. We also deprive them of the opportunity to learn conflict resolution, frustration tolerance and the gratification that comes with doing it on their own.

Don’t minimize or deny their feelings. Teens don’t have the life experience we do as adults. Their first breakup really is the end of the world. Telling them that it’s not a big deal or they shouldn’t be so upset just sends the message to them that you’re not someone to go to with their big feelings. This is the opposite of what you want. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and/or remember a similar experience when you were a teen, and respond with empathy.

I would love to hear your feedback or ways you continue to engage with your teen(s).

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