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Ask a Teen

Why Won't My Teen Talk to Me?

5 Tips for Effectively Communicating With Teens

January 01, 2010
Teens never seem to go to their parents for advice or help. They often keep their distance at a time in their lives when you most want to know what is going on. Parents can feel shut out and helpless. So why are teens prone to this avoidant behavior?

Teens are at a stage in their lives when they are pushing toward independence. The more you take an interest in what's going on, the more they shut you out. I interviewed ten teenagers and their answers may surprise you. Based on the responses, many teens feel threatened and intimidated by their parents. They are scared their parents will get angry and punish them if they are in a tough situation rather than being supportive and understanding. Here are a few of their responses:

Brooke B. said, "I think it's because sometimes you trust other people more than your parents. You don't think that your friends will judge you, but your parents might. I think that your parents should try to remember when they were teens and relate."

Bethany G. said, "You are scared that you will get in trouble. I would want my parents to understand and give me advice that could really help me."

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Kenny O. said, "You can trust your friends more than your parents. Parents might get mad and end up not even helping you. Your parents should try to be nice and sympathetic."

Alyssa H. said, "I wouldn't go to my parents for help because my parents might be judgmental. I want my parents to be understanding, and help me solve my problem."

Kiya C. said, "Because in the end, you have to live with them, and if they don't understand they will nag you constantly. They need to calm down and not overreact if you are in a bad situation."

As a parent, those responses are likely disheartening. But don't worry, here are a few tips that parents can use to open up the lines of communication with their teens.

1. Don't jump to judge. Most teens I asked said that they want their parents to think back and remember when there were hard decisions they had to decide on. Relax and try to understand where they are coming from. We all read To Kill a Mockingbird—step into their shoes to understand how they feel.

2. Keep an open mind. Teens want their parents to be kind and help them instead of immediately punishing them without trying to completely understand the whole situation—it's not always as easy as black and white.

3. Actively open the lines of communication. Don't pressure or badger teens to talk. Slowly encourage them to talk on their own time. If your teen goes into the kitchen for a snack, sit down with them and talk about yourself first. What did you do today? What are you struggling with? When your teen says something, try not to go straight into parent mode. For example, if she says that "Susie wore the most hideous outfit today," don't jump to conclusions or scold her with lines like "I can't believe you're judging her!" or "That's not a nice thing to say." Instead, say something simple like "Really? What was she wearing?" Let her know you care about what she's saying and her opinions.

4. Share your problems. Discuss a problem with a sibling and ask how she thinks you should handle it. Tell her about a sticky situation and let her know her opinion matters to you.

5. Be an active listener by using nonverbal cues. Sometimes it's more than just what you say that matters. If you ask her "What was she wearing" while rolling your eyes—she won't be as receptive. Keep an energetic attitude, use eye contact, smile, use gestures to let her know you're listening, don't be afraid to be touch your teen. A hug, consoling or a goodnight kiss might seem awkward, but you're they convey unconditional love and are critical to your teen's emotional development.

The teenage years are tough—not just for you, but for your teen, too. Try to understand that they're finding their place in the world, asserting their independence and coming to terms with their own opinions and views. Use some of the tips we've provided and hopefully you'll gain their trust and forge a better relationship with your young adult.

Written by Sophia Borzabadi with assistance from Lynette Rowland, Editor-in-Chief. Sophia Borzabadi is a fourteen year old and resides in Noblesville. Her hobbies include reading, acting and writing. She plans on attending Indiana University and studying law or pediatric medicine. Sophia has two brothers (Mario, 17 and Dominic, 10) and a dog named Patches.

Sophia Borzabadi is a fourteen year old and resides in Noblesville. Her hobbies include reading, acting and writing. She plans on attending Indiana University and studying law or pediatric medicine. Sophia has two brothers (Mario, 17 and Dominic, 10) and a dog named Patches.

Tags: Parenting, Tweens & Teens

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