Encouraging Your Teen To Open Up

Posted on November 11th, 2017

We can safely assume that teens are easily distracted – by their electronic devices or any number of other things. It may seem as though teens are great communicators with their friends, or when it comes to snap-chatting, or while playing video games live. So, why is it so hard for teens to communicate with their parents? It’s easy to place the blame on these distractions, but the truth lies with long-developed communication patterns.

There are some communication mistakes that parents make that lead their teen to shut down. For instance, teens may shut down and refuse to share due to fear of a parents’ reaction and/or a parent not being in agreement with what the teen has to say. Teens remember instances in the past where there was a “freak out” in response to their sharing or a criticism given. Those memories impact their willingness to continue opening up. Teens may even be holding back due to shame, guilt, or fear of disappointing their parents. Overall, teens will choose to completely avoid communicating due to their fear of what their parents’ reaction may be. Here are a few common communication tools that parents can practice to encourage their teen’s to open up:

Alter your thinking

Misunderstandings can to lead to miscommunication. Assuming the worst from your teen and having negative thoughts about what your teen is thinking, saying, or doing impacts the communication before it has even begun. Contention and mistrust can be a barrier to really hearing what your teen has to say. Changing how you think can lead to better conversations with your teen. Keeping a neutral stance and awareness of biases prior to expressing them can prevent a teen from shutting down.

Just Listen

“To listen well, you may have to restrain yourself from disagreeing or giving advice or talking about your own experience. Temporarily at least, listening is a one-sided relationship.” – Michael Nichols, The Lost Art of Listening

Active listening is focusing on what your teen is trying to say, staying present, and showing interest with eye contact, nodding, and tones demonstrating that you are following along – it does not include focusing on your response! Minimize any response such as reacting negatively, being defensive, and attacking – regardless of what your teen has to say. Although it may be difficult to hold your tongue, the conversation will last longer if the teen is given the space to share verses cutting the teen short with your reaction.

Ask the right questions

Some questions can imply judgment and rejection. Utilizing the tool of active listening, followed by the right questions, can encourage a productive conversation. Coming from a place of curiosity is helpful in demonstrating interest and can lead to clarifying misunderstandings. Start by asking if it’s ok if you ask a question! (Example: “Hey Jill, I know you’ve had a busy day and I would love to hear about it. Would it be ok if I asked you a couple questions?”) Try to avoid asking “why” questions as it can make teens feel defensive. (Example: Instead of “Why did you go to Tommy’s?” ask “How come you decided to go to Tommy’s?) Asking questions in a gentle manner with genuine interest facilitates sharing.

Meet them where they are

Sit with your teen somewhere he/she is comfortable and initiate a positive, casual conversation. This can alleviate concerns or worries about the seriousness of the “talk.” Asking your teen to meet you in a formal setting can be nerve-wracking. Instead, meet them where they feel most comfortable; ask if you can come into their room versus having your teen come to the dinner table or sitting room. Checking in with gentle questioning about when it would be a good time to talk gives your teen a sense of control.


Reflecting is an active listening skill that aids a conversation by restating what the other person has said in an inquisitive manner. Paraphrasing and then asking, “Did I hear you correctly?” makes it clear to your teen that you are really hearing him/her. Reflecting helps you demonstrate understanding and gain clarification. Most teens use modern slang as descriptors; instead of correcting or mocking their choice of words, ask them about it in a curious manner. You can even try rephrasing it in your own words and check in with your teen to see if you understood the phrase correctly. This can create a dialogue – and perhaps some laughs!

Model respect

Parents sometimes make the mistake of disrespecting their teen, often without realizing they are doing it. Despite how disrespectful your teen may be to you, responding with disrespect condones and further models this behavior. This leads to future miscommunication and enables your teen to withdraw from further communicating their concerns with you. Parenting at this stage is difficult and takes much thought with regards to one’s awareness of tone, body language, and use of words. Respect includes refraining from attacking, from reacting negatively, and from becoming defensive. Parents can model respect by taking a minute to choose how to respond to a teen’s disrespect, in addition to considering an approach that promotes listening to what the teen is really trying to convey. Respect can also be shown by considering your teen’s opinion.

With more attention and reflection, parents can create healthy opportunities for their teens to join in conversation. Practicing the tools above can increase your teen’s willingness to share and create new memories of how you both communicate effectively.

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Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.