Reopen Communication After Teens Shut Down
Has Your Teen Shut Down?
Sometimes our well-meaning efforts to guide teens backfires, leading them to shut down or push back. It can be tough to get teens to open back up after they think we’ve messed up. There are behavioral adjustments parents can make to get conversations flowing once again. Your tweens and teens will appreciate your efforts and return to you for the guidance they need (and crave!) even if they don’t say it aloud.
Consider these common scenarios. If you’ve experienced any of them, you’re not alone.
The Silent Treatment
You sense your teen isn’t telling you something. You worry it could be important. In an effort to find out what’s up, you repeatedly ask what’s wrong. This often backfires as your teen feels you’re pestering them and wants you to leave them alone. They wonder why you don’t realize you’re actually making things worse. Your repeated questions annoy them. They withdraw into silence or suddenly become “tired.”
If you’re getting the cold shoulder, you must first acknowledge why your teen is upset. Ease off your questioning. Give them a chance to use their own coping strategies to work through things for themselves. Tell them you’re always available. Allow them to bounce ideas, thoughts, or feelings off of you at any time. Remember the same teen who is silent during your preferred “office hours” may open up late at night.
Just Lighten Up
You see your teen is dealing with a problem. You try to make light of it to help them realize it’s not such a big deal. You may even tease them in hopes they’ll see they don’t have to take themselves or the situation so seriously. This is another no-no for teens as it makes them think you find their problems trivial. They often feel like you don’t understand them. As a result, they think it’s just not worth sharing anything with you.
It’s time to start taking them seriously. (Even if you feel like they are overreacting.) Try sharing a similar experience you had when you were their age to help put things into a different perspective. Show empathy. Sometimes just listening is all you have to do to show you care. A key element of respectful listening is knowing that if something matters to your child…it should matter to you.
Siding With Adults
You hop on board with your teens’ teacher (or coach, or another adult) when they confide in you about a disagreement. The risk here is that next time, your teen likely won’t bother to explain their side of the story. They’ll assume you will side against them — always choosing the adult perspective.
Next time a disagreement surfaces, give your teen your full attention. Listen and ask questions to understand both sides of the story. Suggest they take the perspective of the “other side” for a moment to see what they discover. While you always have their back, sometimes that means helping them understand what others are thinking or feeling.
Getting Teens to Talk
It’s common during adolescence for teens to communicate less about what’s going on in their lives. Click through to learn effective strategies for getting conversations started and keeping them ongoing.
Sometimes it’s better just to listen. Be a sounding board -- letting your teen bounce ideas off of you. Your teen will open up and share more when you listen respectfully.
Unless safety is at risk, value your teen’s feelings and point of view. Reserve judgment and give your teen the benefit of the doubt. Ask if you can share your thoughts and opinions before doing so.
Consider the Environment
Determine the places that make your teen feel most comfortable. This may mean talking in the car, in the dark when you’re saying goodnight, or during a shared walk.
Being a parent is a 24-hour-a-day job. Teens won’t always want to talk when it’s convenient for you. Make it clear that you are always there if and when they are ready to talk. And when they come to you, be sure they know they have your full attention.
This time, you take sides when your teen tells you about a fight they’ve had with a “best friend.” With good intentions you mention how this friend is a bad influence and not worth the time. While your teen may appreciate your support in the moment this approach can backfire. Let’s say the next day your teen decides to go back to being best friends again. They may feel too embarrassed to share now that they know your true feelings.
Taking sides is always risky. Instead, just listen. Be supportive by helping your teen think through the situation calmly. They don’t always need a solution. Sometimes they just want to know they are being heard.
We’ve all experienced one or more of these situations. We go in with good intentions but our approach misfires and our teens shut down. By adopting a fresh approach the next time you’re saddled with a dilemma, you can open the door to better and more effective conversations. And this will give you greater opportunities to offer them the support they need.