- Beware if your teenager suddenly goes silent
- Reasons according to adults
- Reasons according to teenagers
- How to get teenagers to talk
As children grow into teenagers, it is common for them to become more distant from their parents.
There’s nothing more disheartening than realizing that your once-chatty teen has turned into a closed-off teenager who seems to avoid conversation at all costs.
You might wonder, “What happened to my sweet, talkative kid?”
“Did I do something wrong?”
You are not alone in this struggle. Many parents of teens face the same problem.
Although each teenager is unique, through countless conversations with parents, teenagers, and mental health professionals, we’ve identified two prevalent themes that often arise in discussions surrounding parent-teen issues.
But before we start…
Beware If Your Teenager Suddenly Goes Silent
There are many reasons why teenagers don’t want to talk to their parents. But if there is a sudden change in your teen, look out for the following potential causes.
- Physical abuse or bullying
- Sexual assault
- Drug use
- Alcohol addiction
- Major depression
- Other mental health issues
These conditions can cause a sharp change in a teenager’s behavior. Seek professional help immediately to address these issues.
Mental health conditions developed during the teenage years may mark the beginning of a serious mental health issue, such as depression1.
If you suspect your child has suicidal thoughts2, or
If you or someone you know have suicidal thoughts, call 800-273-8255 to speak with someone today
Help is available 24 hours in English and Spanish.
For more help with mental health issues, check out the resources at the National Institute of Mental Health.
Other resources: https://www.parentingforbrain.com/parenting-resources/
Also See: Red Flags In Teenage Behavior
Why Teenagers Don’t Want To Talk To Their Parents, According To Adults
Puberty marks the beginning of adolescence, a critical and transformative time in a young person’s life.
Teenage brains grow a lot during this time, affecting their body and mind3.
A rush of hormones causes rapid mood, behavior, and self-awareness changes.
These changes lead to big feelings, more impulsive actions, and a bigger wish to be independent. Meanwhile, the decision-making part of the brain (frontal lobes) is still growing, resulting in more moodiness, risky behaviors 4 , and gravitation toward their peers rather than parents for advice5.
The central theme here is that the brains of grumpy teenagers are going through tremendous changes; therefore, parents must be patient and empathize with their children.
Even though all of these are generally true, it places the cause squarely on teens’ shoulders.
Why Teenagers Don’t Want To Talk To Their Parents, According To Teenagers
Every relationship involves challenges and conflicts, and both parties share responsibilities.
While the changes occurring during puberty can make teenagers more susceptible to mood swings, parents’ behaviors may contribute to communication issues, too, making teens reluctant to talk to them.
According to teenagers themselves, here are some reasons why they don’t want to talk to their parents.
Parents are always right, and teenagers are always wrong
No one is infallible. Neither parents, teachers, nor the police – not a single person can claim to be always right.
When someone adopts the “I’m always right, and you have to listen to me” attitude and doesn’t listen to others, it can create a barrier to the lines of communication.
This holds true for anyone, regardless of age, adults or teenagers.
Such a person can be off-putting and frustrating, making others less inclined to engage in meaningful conversation with them.
If a parent has been acting like this, their teenager’s unwillingness to talk to them is normal.
As teens’ brains develop, this may become more obvious or emotional for them to handle, but adolescence is not the root cause.
Parents don’t get it when teenagers tell them something
We may not always be able to comprehend the struggles of others fully, but the least we can do is attempt to understand or offer support in some way.
But sometimes, parents react to unfamiliar circumstances in a manner that can be discouraging for their adolescents.
For example, they may unintentionally focus on what they believe to be the right answer instead of listening and trying to see the situation from their children’s point of view. Or they may criticize their teens’ decisions.
When someone treats you as if what you think doesn’t matter, you would not want to share your thoughts and feelings with them, too.
This reaction isn’t solely a result of young age.
With a more mature brain, adults may be able to overlook the negative aspect of the interaction or suppress their dissatisfaction. But it is still there. Teenagers’ undeveloped brains may have trouble ignoring it.
Parents punish when teenagers make mistakes
If parents frequently resort to taking away their children’s cell phones, iPads, or Wi-Fi access or using other forms of punishment as a means of discipline, they likely don’t have a close relationship with their children.
This negative reaction isn’t limited to young people; it’s a natural human response.
Who would want to be close to someone who hurts them to force them to change their behavior, regardless of whether it’s warranted or not?
Parents and teenagers’ lack of trust
Parents’ use of strict rules, rigid parental control, punishments, and overriding decisions shows a lack of trust in their children’s judgment and invalidates their needs.
When teenagers perceive a lack of trust from their parents, they may become reluctant to talk to them. They fear that their parents may misunderstand, make it a big deal, overreact, or punish them for what they say.
If it is risky to say things that may get them into trouble, naturally, they don’t want to talk.
How To Get Teenagers To Talk
Who is right based on how both sides view the situation?
They are both right. Both sides contribute to the breakdown of communication.
But since we are the adults in this relationship, we must do more to turn the situation around.
1. Don’t Blame The Teen Years
Take some responsibility for the situation.
Teenagers are not a separate species with their own confusing logic and language. They are simply going through a time they feel more emotionally sensitive.
Oftentimes, they have valid reasons from their point of view. So don’t blame everything on them or the “teenage problem.”
Blaming them will only push them further away.
Don’t say, “You’ve been avoiding me. Why are you not talking to me?”
Say, “It’s been so long since we talked. I miss the time when we shared and laughed together. Do you have some time now to catch up?”
2. Active Listening To Discover
Many people listen to reply, not listen to learn.
Active listening involves fully concentrating on understanding what is said.
Listening actively means not thinking about what you’re going to say after they’re done speaking but rather what you learn from them.
Listen to discover something new about your child.
For example, “Oh, I didn’t know you actually liked playing the guitar. You just don’t like being made to play.”
Although you may not “get it” right away, you at least show interest in discovering more about them.
You can also paraphrase what your teen says to show that you have paid attention, “What I’m hearing you say is that…”
3. Give Them Autonomy and Space
As teens assert their own identities and navigate new challenges, they often crave more independence.
Teens are more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with less intrusive and controlling parents6.
By respecting their teens’ autonomy and own space, parents show their trust in and respect for their judgments and decisions. A supportive environment like this can help teens open up to their parents and ask for guidance whenever needed.
4. More Asking, Less Answering
As parents, it’s natural to want to guide our children toward the quickest path to success.
But our teenagers may not always be receptive to our solutions.
If we forcefully impose our ideas, our children will withdraw and become reluctant to open up to us.
That doesn’t mean we cannot provide guidance. We can guide them using thoughtful questions and talking about possible scenarios.
Rather than simply imposing our ideas, ask open-ended questions. For instance, “What do you think might happen if you choose this option?” or “Have you considered the potential consequences if things don’t go as planned?”
By engaging them to think about issues, we teach our teens to think critically and make informed choices while showing that we respect their right to make independent decisions.
5. Use Inductive Discipline
A positive relationship can be built through non-punitive discipline such as reasoning.
Don’t engage in a power struggle. Give them a good reason why they should or should not do something. It can make a huge difference if you don’t threaten them with punishment whenever they don’t do what you want.
Like any other person, yelling, judging, punishing, and imposing your views on them won’t foster a healthy connection. Build a strong relationship by validating, empathizing, and offering support as your teen navigates this challenging time.
By treating your teenager like a person and building a strong, trusting relationship, you may find that they naturally become more willing to listen and open up to you.
6. Make Eating Dinner Together a Family Tradition
A family dinner is a great way to strengthen family relationships. It’s a good time to catch up and start simple conversations. It used to be a common pastime, but our fast-paced society has led to its decline in America today7.
Make the family meal a family time. Turn it into a family tradition. Put away all the electronics at the dinner table so that everyone is fully present and able to connect.
Having meals together regularly creates a strong sense of belonging and emotional security in children. It is associated with many benefits, including higher self-esteem, better grades, and more social skills.
Teenagers who ate more meals with their families reported less stress and tension in their families, and they were more likely to seek help from their parents when they had a serious concern8.
But of course, this only happens when the parents don’t use dinner time to lecture or criticize but connect with their children genuinely.
7. Build a Strong Relationship
Your child will be more likely to listen to and talk to you when you have a great relationship with them.
Put your relationship before grades, schedule, or chores.
Twenty years from now, none of these will matter as much as your relationship.
Spend quality time together. Quality time doesn’t mean a lot of time. Quality is more important than quantity.
Connect with your teen by pointing out positive things that they’ve done. Use constructive advice, rather than negative comments, to teach.
Parenting teens is a journey, and making mistakes along the way is okay.
A healthy relationship takes patience, compassion, and an open mind.
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- 1.Silk JS, Davis S, McMakin DL, Dahl RE, Forbes EE. Why do anxious children become depressed teenagers? The role of social evaluative threat and reward processing. Psychol Med. Published online February 17, 2012:2095-2107. doi:10.1017/s0033291712000207
- 2.Kroning M, Kroning K. Teen Depression and Suicide. Journal of Christian Nursing. Published online April 2016:78-86. doi:10.1097/cnj.0000000000000254
- 3.Blakemore SJ, Burnett S, Dahl RE. The role of puberty in the developing adolescent brain. Hum Brain Mapp. Published online May 3, 2010:926-933. doi:10.1002/hbm.21052
- 4.Zelazo PD, Carlson SM. Hot and Cool Executive Function in Childhood and Adolescence: Development and Plasticity. Child Dev Perspect. Published online June 2012:n/a-n/a. doi:10.1111/j.1750-8606.2012.00246.x
- 5.Smetana JG, Robinson J, Rote WM. Socialization in Adolescence. ; 2015.
- 6.Inguglia C, Ingoglia S, Liga F, Lo Coco A, Lo Cricchio MG. Autonomy and Relatedness in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: Relationships with Parental Support and Psychological Distress. J Adult Dev. Published online October 7, 2014:1-13. doi:10.1007/s10804-014-9196-8
- 7.Mestdag I, Vandeweyer J. Where Has Family Time Gone? In Search of Joint Family Activities and the Role of the Family Meal in 1966 and 1999. Journal of Family History. Published online July 2005:304-323. doi:10.1177/0363199005275794
- 8.Eisenberg ME, Olson RE, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M, Bearinger LH. Correlations Between Family Meals and Psychosocial Well-being Among Adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. Published online August 1, 2004:792. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.8.792