What to do when your teen doesn't want to talk to you

CLEVELAND, Ohio - When kids are young they tell you everything, but most parents know that once a child becomes a "tween," it can be hard to get more than a "fine" or "OK" out of them.

According to Dr. Vanessa Jensen of the psychiatric department of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, even if your teen isn’t talking, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep trying.

“Some parents tend to just be quiet and stop asking,” she said. “Or if a child begins to give them an, ‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s fine,’ some parents feel like they shouldn’t ask. I would encourage parents to keep asking.” 

When a child isn’t very forthcoming with details about their life, Jensen recommends asking in different ways.  

Instead of just asking, "How was your day?" -- ask about something specific, such as how a certain test went, or how their best friend is doing in regard to something the child had mentioned previously.

Jensen said being more specific lets children know that you are paying attention and that you really did hear and care.

Jensen said most teens begin to "pull away" during a time that often coincides with puberty. It’s also a time when their activities -- whether school, organized sports, or groups -- are spent more with peers, teachers and coaches than with parents.

She said if things at home aren’t comfortable -- or if a child has the perception that their parents aren’t accessible -- they begin to rely more on other people.

Jensen said sometimes parents don’t know how to approach difficult or sensitive topics with their teens.

In these instances, she said, it’s sometimes helpful to start the conversation in the car.

“If you think about it -- if I’m staring at you, and you’re staring at me, and I’m embarrassed, I’m less likely to give you the whole story,” said Jensen. “But, if we’re driving, and I can’t see your face to see that your mom or your dad’s eyes are getting really big, and your face is getting red, and you’re getting angry -- I, (the teen), am more likely to keep talking.” 

Jensen said that kids of today are under much stress because the pace at which everything moves.

She said because things are so different today than they were 20 years ago, there will be some aspects of teen life that are difficult for parents to relate to. Parents can empathize, but they won’t always know exactly what teens are going through, just as parents 30 years ago struggled to understand their teens.

Jensen said it all comes down to talking. You have to keep talking, keep listening and be available, even if your teen doesn’t want advice -- just be there to listen, Jensen said.

She said it’s not always going to be big conversations, but little talks and a lot of short moments will be more beneficial for your teen in the long run.

Cleveland Clinic