Teenagers are notorious for being tight-lipped. Thankfully, for the majority of teens, this is part of growing up and not necessarily a sign of a major problem. However, as parents we sometimes fear that a teen who doesn’t communicate might be suffering with a significant issue. Are they depressed? Being bullied? Do they need help with something but fear you won’t understand?
If you’re raising a teenager who doesn’t seem interested in talking with you, or you worry that as your kids age, they will shut you out, there are some things you can do. Using non-threatening communication techniques, you can keep the lines of communication open or begin a dialogue. Often, you can do so without cutting straight to sensitive topics or obvious “probing.” Once communication is established, your teen might find it easier to confide in you or ask for advice. Here are some things to try:
Keep it light Conversations don’t have to be about serious issues or feelings. Talk about movies, current events, or hobbies. Ask about calendar items coming up, how they like their teachers, or what their friends are up to. Dinnertime is a great opportunity to have these casual, fun conversations.
Know when to back off Suppose you ask a general question about life is going or how they feel about school. If you get a vague response or diversion, try asking something less serious and / or more specific. “Weren’t you thinking about cutting your hair? How do you like your basketball coach? Does he have any specific advice for you? What do you like about your job?” If your teen doesn’t want to talk about themselves directly, try asking about their friends.
Embrace the darkness Sometimes it’s easier for a teen to have a serious conversation when they can’t see your face. Try waiting up for them after a date or other outing. Ask them if they had fun and what they may have liked or disliked. Many parents say that some of their best communication with their teens happens late at night.
Let them have their say When beginning a potentially difficult conversation, take a soft approach. Teens like to feel like you respect their feelings and opinion, so talk to them that way. Let them express their thoughts without judgement. If possible, let your teen speak first. Don’t interrupt or invalidate their feelings by what you say, how you say it, or your body language.
Stay on topic When conflict arises, avoid digging up past conflicts or failures. Stick to the current issue, and avoid accusing phrases like “you never… or “you always…” Don’t compare your teen with their siblings, friends, or anyone else.
Use their methods If they are more comfortable communicating certain things in a text message or email, embrace it. It might also be easier for you to explain your reasoning for certain rules or disciplinary actions this way; just be careful to use the same soft approach that you would in a live conversation.
Getting your teen to open up should be looked at as a process, not a task. As with most things, start small. It is easier to maintain open communication as a matter of habit, long before problems arise. That way, when there is a serious conversation necessary, it won’t be a stark contrast to their everyday life. If you have concerns about your reluctant teen, or are worried there are some significant issues in play, reach out for help. With guidance, you can learn to talk to your teen in a more productive way.