Why is it so incredibly hard to talk to teens? It can seem like your once chatty child has somehow transformed into a recluse who wants nothing to do with you. While this can be frustrating, it's a normal part of development. We dive into why this sudden need to detach occurs and seven ways to effectively communicate with teens.
Why Your Teen Might Not Want to Talk to You
We give our toddlers a break when they have a tantrum, but we expect more out of our teens. Ironically though, this is another time in our kid's lives when their brains are rapidly developing, which leads to similar toddler-like behaviors. Here are some of the main reasons your teen may be pushing away.
Identity Formation: The teenage years are when children explore their identity. This leads to a greater dependence on peer groups, seemingly sporadic changes of likes and dislikes, and even alterations to their appearance. This experimentation is normal, but without acceptance, it can lead to distancing.
Emotional Instability: Research shows that adolescents experience an array of emotions all at the same time, but do not possess the ability to distinguish between these feelings. This makes self-regulation extremely difficult and causes them to push away from those who try to offer help.
Feelings of Confinement: Teens want independence. Pushing boundaries is another part of development, but when this occurs, parents tend to react by putting more rules in place. Sometimes this is warranted, but other times, it's important to give them a little room to grow.
Effective Ways for Parents to Communicate With Teens
Healthy parent-teen relationships require productive communication. Unfortunately, teens are experts at shutting everyone out. If you want the tools to talk to teens, here are some methods to try.
Set Firm Rules and Responsibilities, But Be Willing to Reevaluate
Your teen may seek independence, but structure is important for keeping them safe and helping them to develop positive decision-making skills. Rules don't disappear in adulthood, so they should continue to be present in adolescence. However, it is crucial for parents to reevaluate the rules that are in place. Ask yourself:
- Are your rules still age appropriate?
- Is your teen getting good grades?
- Are they active in extracurriculars and in the community?
- Do they follow the current rules you have in place?
If you have a good kid on your hands and they are asking for a little leeway, consider their request! If one hasn't been made, take this as an opportunity to extend an olive branch. Talk to your teen about the current rules and ask if they would like to see changes to the present structure.
Teens spend a lot of time comparing themselves to others. This includes the rules that their friends have to follow. By taking the time to talk to your teen about how they feel about your household guidelines, you open a door to better communication and you recognize your teen's feelings. Feeling seen and heard is a big step in building communication.
When You Change the Rules
If you adjust the rules for your teen, make it clear that when rules are broken, freedoms are lost. Trust is a two-way street. Additionally, with more power comes more responsibility. If your teen wants the freedom to stay out an extra 30 minutes, then request 30 minutes more of their time to be dedicated to chores, school, and family.
Use Active Listening Daily
If you want to talk to teens and hear more than one-word answers, then active listening is a great solution. This method of communication require seven things:
- Removing Distractions: Turn off the television and radio and put computers, cell phones, and tablets away.
- Maintaining Eye Contact: When you talk to your teen, position yourself at their level and look them in the eye when they talk.
- Using Positive Body Language: Lean forward, nod as they speak, and touch their arm when they seem upset.
- Taking Turns Talking: Have one person speak at a time and allow them to fully finish their thought before responding.
- Validating Their Feelings: Before responding, put yourself in their shoes and respond accordingly. For example:
- "I am so sorry that happened to you."
- "That would make me so mad."
- "That seems extremely unfair."
- "What an exciting day!"
- Asking Open-Ended Questions: Once a your teen has expressed a thought, and you have acknowledged how they might feel, ask open-ended questions to continue the lines of communication, such as:
- "How did that make you feel?"
- "What do you think you are going to do about the situation?"
- Saving Your Opinions: Unless they ask for advice, just listen. Teens don't always want for you to fix things. Many times they just want to be heard.
Dinner time and car rides are fantastic times to unplug and have open conversations. If you make time for small moments of active listening daily, you will find that your teen is more likely to express their excitements, frustrations, and concerns on a regular basis. The key is keeping these exchanges short, so aim for 15 to 30-minute periods of distraction free talk.
Give Them Extra Kindness
Adolescents' emotions tend to be all over the place. Make sure that your teen knows that you still love and support them by being proactive with moments of kindness.
- Acknowledge big and little accomplishments.
- Tell them you love them every day.
- Compliment changes they make to their appearance when you find them positive.
- Keep negative comments to yourself, unless they are constructive.
- Take note of small things they need and surprise them with them.
Keep Your Emotions in Check
While you may not remember it this way, you were a moody teenager once, too. This is a normal part of development. As your teen changes their appearance, becomes a bit more temperamental, and even distances themselves from you, it's important to keep your emotions in check.
Research shows that when a teen feels as if their parents are overreacting to their emotions, they are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors. What this means is that unless your child's actions are endangering them in some way, try to take a step back before reacting and ask yourself -
Does this moment matter in the grand scheme of things? If the answer is no, then listen to Elsa and let it go.
Find Ways to Bond With Your Teen
As your teen pushes away, take the time to actively listen when they are talking to others. What have they gained interest in? What activities do they hope to explore? Find ways to share pastimes with your teens in a subtle way. Even if they continue to stay distant throughout the activity, you are creating a connection. Don't give up just because they are being difficult.
Also, find ways to make them feel needed. For instance, have them explain a new social media platform to you. Let them introduce you to an artist that fits the genre you already enjoy. Find opportunities to discuss their present hobbies and ask questions along the way. Let them teach you something!
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Sometimes the element of surprise is your best bet! If your teens won't talk to you, then find other forms of communication. The majority of adolescents are glued to their phones, so consider messaging them via text or Snapchat. These unexpected forms of communication may break the barrier that they have put up.
Choose Your Moments Wisely and Give Them Some Space
Your teen is a person. They need time to themselves, with friends, and to conduct daily tasks. They have busy lives just like you do. They also may need space when they are upset or stressed. Bombarding them with conversations about important topics is not effective communication.
- If you want to help when they seem upset, simply let them know you are there to talk if they want a sounding board. Then, let them have time to process their problem.
- If you need to have a serious talk, request that they come and find you after they complete their homework or finish their chores. Interrupting their thought when completing assignments can cause frustration and make them less receptive.
- If the topic is pressing and they're engaging in a social activity, politely ask them to take a break so that you can have a conversation.
If you want constructive communication to occur, then you need to address your teen in a positive way. Also, say what needs to be said and then leave it be. Repetition is only required when your teen shows that they clearly did not understand the initial conversation. Prior to that, give them the benefit of the doubt.
Communication Is a Two-Way Street
When it comes to talking to your teens, remember to give them some grace. Their bodies and brains are going through a lot. They are also experiencing new things that can cause stress and anxiety - part-time jobs, dating, preparing for the SAT or ACT, and peer-pressure from previously supportive friends. Give your kids some grace in minor moments and focus on the conversations that matter.
Finally, if you don't talk about your emotions, then why should they? If you want to talk to teens, then TALK! People mirror behaviors of the individuals around them. Take the time to share your triumphs and struggles. Discuss your feelings and worries. Be vulnerable. You might be surprised at how quickly your teens start doing the same.