How to Get Your Teen to Talk

A common complaint among parents is that their children stop talking to them during adolescence. This may occur because your child is struggling to become independent. Teens will want and need more privacy than they did as small children. Your teen may also be silent because “the wires of communication in your family are somehow crossed,” note Laurence Steinberg and Ann Levine, authors of You and Your Adolescent. To get your teenager to open up and talk to you, those wires will need to be uncrossed. Although it will take some time, simply modifying the way you talk to teens will change the way they talk to you.

Communication Concerns

  • The things you say: The things you say and how you say them may determine whether or not your teen talks to you. Steinberg and Levine offer the following example. 

    Your adolescent comes home from school looking blue. How do you respond? Are you critical, saying, “What did you do this time?” Do you offer empty reassurances such as, “This time next week you won’t even remember today”? Are you too quick to give advice like “Moping around won’t help, why don’t you go for a bike ride”?

    All of these responses will close the door to communication. They make it sound as if you think you have all the answers without knowing the questions. In general, a teenager thinks that his parents don’t understand what his life is like, and responses like the above will solidify that belief.

  • Be a model: Don’t expect your teen to do all of the sharing. Show her that it is okay to share feelings by sharing some of your own. Limit your comments to areas that aren’t a source of conflict between the two of you. Talk about your job, your friends, sports, or a movie you’ve seen. You may find out you share similar feelings about some things.

  • Show your adolescent that you are interested: Demonstrate interest by using eye contact and involved body posture such as leaning forward or touching his arm. If you are just beginning to work on communication skills, it will take some time to build mutual trust. Once he knows you are there for her, he will begin to open up more.

  • Use “I” messages: “I” messages are nonjudgmental statements of how we feel about a particular action or situation. “You” messages are evaluations of the other person’s motives, character, or attitudes. 

    The following is a simple formula for “I” messages: “When you ___________, (describe the behavior in a nonjudgmental manner), I feel _____________ (disclose your feelings) because __________ (clarify the effect of this behavior on your life).” 

  • When describing the behavior that bothers you, try to be specific: Refer to the clothes on the floor rather than saying his room is a total mess. Be objective and avoid character attacks and generalizations. It is important to be brief. You are more likely to get your message across if you stick to one issue at a time.