Teens are not known for their great communication skills. You’ve probably been there: You try so hard to have a conversation with your teen, and they just respond with “fine” or “ok” over and over again. It can be so frustrating!
Why are teens so reluctant to share any insight into their lives?
For some teens, there’s a larger issue at hand and they might be struggling with anxiety or depression. If your teen struggles with communication more than most, you might need to consider sending them to a school that specializes in helping teens overcome mental health struggles.
Most teens, however, are just worried about sharing too much about themselves and being penalized for it. While this is true for girls as well, it is especially true for teen boys. Society puts a lot of pressure on boys to have a tough exterior, and they haven’t learned that it’s OK to be vulnerable. As their parents, it’s our job to teach them how to show vulnerability.
How to teach your teen that it’s OK to be vulnerable
You will need to give your teen the encouragement and space that they need so that they can hold a real conversation with you. This could be a frustrating process, but it’s worth it in the long run.
Set the stage If you want to have an important conversation with your teen, the location matters. Try to have the conversation in a non-threatening environment where you don’t have to maintain eye contact the whole time. A lot of teens get overwhelmed when they feel like they’re being lectured, and they shut down. Having the conversation during a car ride or on a walk is a great alternative to sitting down at the kitchen table where you’ve got to look at each other the whole time.
Also, make sure that neither of you is going to be distracted by your phones during the conversation. Important conversations can be emotionally difficult, and you both might be tempted to look for a distraction. Make it clear that you’re both going to put your phones away so that you can stay present during the conversation.
Listen without judgment This is harder than it seems. As their parent, you’re definitely going to have some opinions on what’s going on in your teen’s life. The trick here is to make sure that you’re not overwhelming them with your opinions. Listen to what they have to say, and let them finish without interjecting your opinion.
When you do get to share your thoughts with them, make sure that you say it without judgment. Teens are worried about being judged by everyone. Whether from their friends at school or from the people in their own house, teens worry about their reputation. If your teen is worried that you might think less of them, they’re not likely to open up to you. Teens only start to express vulnerability when they are confident that it’s safe to do so without being judged.
Control your emotions It can be extremely frustrating when your kid won’t give clear answers to your questions or when they want to spend more time in front of a screen than talking with you. When that’s the case, keep your emotions under control and clearly communicate how you’re feeling. If you role model emotional vulnerability for them, you open the door for them to do the same.
When your teen does open up to you about a difficult topic, keep your emotions in check and respond calmly. If they take your response as an overreaction, they might shy away from opening up again in the future. You can encourage vulnerability in your teen by providing a safe space for them to open up without the threat of a negative response.
If your teen son struggles with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, it might be harder for him to open up. It can be especially hard for teens with anxiety and depression to accept vulnerability as an option.
If that’s the case, he might need help beyond what you can offer. Consider sending him to a therapeutic boarding school like Sundance Canyon Academy where he can work one-on-one with trained therapists to overcome his mental health struggles.