Why Won’t My Teen Talk to Me?

Why Won't My Teen Talk to Me?

Do you ever wish your teen would unplug and talk with you? It can be incredibly frustrating when you want to learn about what’s going on in a young person’s life and you are met with the back of their cell phone … or the back of their head.

I am going to challenge you to take a different perspective on this lack of communication. One of the things I hear most from teens is that their parents (and adults in general) don’t listen to them. I know you are probably thinking “of course I listen to my teen” but go back your last conversation. Were you REALLY listening or were you planning your next comment? How did you let your teen know you were listening?

The thing is, teens often walk away from a conversation with an adult not feeling heard, particularly if it was a disagreement or argument. Young people don’t want to talk with adults who they don’t think listen to them. Adults get frustrated by the lack of communication and resort to combat tactics to get anything to come out of their mouths. Sound familiar?

Listening is the most important part of good communication. Isn’t it so much nicer to talk to someone who is paying attention? Teens feel the same way. Here are some things you can do to show your teen you are listening:

  • Repeat what you have heard. This is one of the simplest and most effective things you can do with anyone to let them know you are listening. After you teen tells you something, use your own words to repeat back to them what you heard. This not only lets them know you heard them, but can clarify a misunderstanding and help you concentrate more on what they are saying than what you will say next.
  • Be genuinely interested. Teens (in fact, most people) can tell when you are simply going through the motions. When you are listening ask relevant follow-up questions so they know you are paying attention. Try to really understand where they are coming from, not just the words they are using.
  • Listen without judging. Even if you disagree with what your teen is telling you try to listen without immediately telling them what you think, telling them that they are wrong or getting upset. Many teens do not want to share with adults because they think they are being judged. Aren’t we all entitled to our own opinion?
  • Control your emotions. A negative emotional outburst from you will likely stop your teen from talking or start an argument. If you are upset at what you are hearing let your teen finish and then let them know how you are feeling as calmly as possible. Of course, if your teen is excited definitely let them know if you are excited too!
  • Use non-verbal communication. Look at your teen while they are talking, you need to unplug too. Nod your head and use other cues, like facial expressions, to show that you are paying attention.
  • Be consistent! We all know that teens have a very strong sense of fairness and dependability. If you are only a good listener some of the time they will have a hard time sharing with you.

The teens I know, want to be able to talk with the important adults in their lives. They want to share what’s happening in their lives and what they think about and what they want to do in the future. They want to talk with someone who will listen, don’t you?

Try out some of these listening strategies and see what happens. Remember, being a good listener takes practice. It won’t happen overnight, and maybe not in every situation, but your teen is much more likely to open up when they know you are really hearing what they are saying.

What other ways do you show the teens in your life that you are listening?

Other articles you might enjoy:

5 Questions to Help You Connect With Your Teen

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14 responses to “Why Won’t My Teen Talk to Me?

  1. Thank you Jodi, for the simple reminder that we have *two* ears and *one* mouth for a reason – and our teens deserve our gift of active listening and full empathy. My experience so far is that the happiest teens are the ones who have parents who take the time to be present and authentic for their teens.

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  2. Hi Jennifer! Sounds like we have had similar experiences. Teens who know their parents are really present seem to be much happier than those whose parents are just going through the motions. Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Tamara G. Suttle, M.Ed., LPC

    Jodi, this is an excellent list to remind us that “listening” doesn’t necessarily insure that then speaker feels “heard.” If it’s important to make someone feel heard when we listen to them, we may have to do more of something or do something entirely different.

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  4. Tamara, I totally agree. It has been my experience that listening should not be a “passive” activity. Of course teens are particularly sensitive about how they are treated making active listening even more important. Thanks for stopping by!

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  5. Hi Jodi:

    This is a great post. I so appreciate the step by step you give parents for listening well. I think we often immediately jump in and give advice and guidance, your point about always thinking about what we are going to say is well taken. I agree that no matter what age our kids are, we need to learn to listen more and temper our own anxiety long enough to get all the information they will give. When I am at my best, I reflect, empathize, and then ask what they plan to do. They will often then invite me to help problem solve, which feels so much more empowering than me shoving my opinion down their throats. Thank you so much for spelling this issue out so clearly and for the important reminders. We all need it!

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    • Hi Amy, thanks for coming by! It really can be difficult for adults to listen long enough to get all the information. I think so often we want to jump in and help and we don’t give young people the opportunity to work things out. I know I have to remind myself to stay patient and just listen, good advice for all relationships!

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  6. Chance Whitmore

    Jodi,
    Great list. Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to step back and remind myself to listen attentively to make sure I understand what is truly going on.

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  9. Great tips Jodi. If teens are treated like the young adults they are, they will feel respected and reciprocate. We are the role models for our teen children and they learn about life and how to treat others by the way we treat and respect them. It’s worth the effort to engage.

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