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How to Talk to a Teenager Who Doesn’t Want to Talk?

Communicating with Teens

Updated on October 23, 2020

Unspoken Teen Etiquette: The 10 Secret Rules Parents Should Know When Talking to Their Teens

Do you struggle to communicate with your teen? What once felt effortless now feels like pulling teeth. When your teen was a little child, you could scoop them up into a hug and kiss away their hurts. Now, they groan when you talk to them and avoid family time. It’s frustrating. You are worried about where your teen is headed. You feel like you and your teen are both unhappy, and you want to change that dynamic. Learning how to talk to your teen can make a big difference in your relationship. Good communication during these teenage years is crucial.

Secret Unspoken Rules for Communicating with Teens

There are a lot of unspoken expectations in the teen world. Your teenager is learning to navigate a new world of demands from their peers and adults in authority. Rather than demanding they change to meet your preference for communication, you might be able to make changes in your own approach to meet them part of the way.

Don’t assume the worst.

Did you find drugs in their room or catch them quickly hiding a browser on their computer? It can be hard not to jump to terrible conclusions. But, assuming the worst can damage their ability to trust you. This doesn’t mean you should ignore things or hide your head in the sand either. Approach problematic situations without assuming or jumping to conclusions.

Speak to your teen like an adult.

It can be difficult to see your teen as an adult rather than a child. But, treating them like a child will only make them push harder for freedom and respect. Talk to your kid like an adult. The rapport you establish now will last for years to come.

Don’t step in unless necessary.

Let your child fail. There are times this feels very hard, but failure is an important part of their growth and maturity process. They need to feel the consequences of their actions. But, more than that, they need to know failure doesn’t change your love towards them.

This is especially important with most teacher and coach interactions. Let them learn independence and how to speak up for themselves. A teen can’t learn to advocate for themselves if the parent steps in to fight their battles.

Try a different communication approach.

Did you know that most teens now list texting as their favorite way to communicate?

Sometimes, you need to consider alternate ways to talk to your teen. Maybe they feel uncomfortable or are afraid of how you will react. Let your teen know they can text you with concerns or questions. And text your teen for “non-issues”—like just to say hi or wish them a good day.  Cell phones can connect families in the 21st century without being intrusive or too pushy.  

Give freedom with expectations.

Teens shouldn’t be free to do just anything, but your grasp has to loosen as they age. To jump into this topic, you can read our recent post on How Much Freedom is Right for My Teen?

Protect and care for them.

Even though you are starting to give them freedom and talk to them on a higher level, you still have a role as protector for your teen. This is a tricky line to walk, but helping young people navigate difficult situations requires your support and listening ear more than your direct action in many cases.

Set aside individual time.

Is your teen complaining you never have time for them? Maybe your teen acts like they want nothing to do with you. Either way, set aside time to make an effort to connect without expectations. Freeing your schedule without demanding they free their own (or find a desire to hang out with you) can mean a lot to your teen.

Stay consistent.

Don’t jerk your teen around by changing the rules and expectations continually. Teens that feel unsure of your response are more likely to avoid interactions. When you are feeling generous—stay consistent and don’t loosen all expectations. When you are tired and don’t feel like dealing with something (and this is the really tricky one)—stay consistent and work through it anyways. Consistency is usually hardest when we are tired and feeling worn out.

Don’t assess their looks.

Your teen is probably going through physical changes. Parents can best support their teenagers by not commenting on facial acne, weight, size, height or anything else your child can’t control. Telling your teen that clothes aren’t flattering on them or they need to change up how they are eating is a very sensitive topic that should take a lot of consideration. Flippant remarks might fly out naturally, but they can cause a lot of self-consciousness for your teen.

Listen to their opinions/preferences without input.

From their favorite band to the career they want to pursue, allow your teen to explore their self-expression without needing to appreciate it yourself. While you don’t want to condone harmful behavior, these are personal choices.

If you feel like your teen may need more help than you can give, check out our post on taking the next step with your troubled teen.

Speak to an expert about How to Talk to a Teenager Who Doesn’t Want to Talk? and your teenager.

Connect with an Admissions Counselor who specializes in "comorbidity, mental health treatment" to help your teen begin their recovery today.

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