Do you have a teenager who isn’t interested in talking with you? Do you get monosyllable answers to your questions? If so, you – and they – are normal. But don’t give up trying to have a good quality conversation with your teen. Teens don’t have to be having long, deep and meaningful conversations with adults on a daily basis – but it is important they share their thoughts and feelings with adults at least some of the time.
Here are a few ideas to help the process.
1. Talk while doing something else at the same time
Try conversations in the car, while walking the dog, ironing and so on. Create spots in your house that a teenager can sit and eat or look at magazines, etc. and talk to you while you are also doing something (cleaning up, looking at the paper yourself, etc.).
2. Express less intense emotion (positive and negative) while talking to the teen
Teenagers will often ‘turn off’ if they notice stress, worry, frustration and excitement in an adult’s voice. Try to be as neutral as possible in conversations with uncommunicative teens. Express interest and care but stay nonchalant, casual and ‘mild’ with words and body language.
3. Try closed questions
If open ended questions (How was your day?) aren’t getting you anywhere, try closed questions with just a few options. For example, “What did you like most, ‘this’ or ‘that’?”, “What was the hardest bit, ‘this or that’?”, or “On a scale of 1-10, how good/bad/worrying/fun/upsetting/easy is this/was that?”. These are often easier for teens to answer.
4. Try written communication
Excellent teen-adult communication often happens via email, texts, notes left on pillows and Facebook posts (yes, even if they are in the next room!). Teens often feel less embarrassed and vulnerable communicating in writing, and they can do it in their own time.
5. Talk about yourself
Don’t make conversation just about interrogation. Share your own thoughts, daily experiences and feelings. Talking idly about things helps increase their own sharing in the long term.
6. Try addressing the uncommunicative behaviour directly
Sometimes, it can work to be upfront about the difficulties in communicating. Say: “I know you don’t always feel comfortable talking about this stuff, and I really will try not to bug you, but I need to know a couple of things”. Or try humour: “Here we go again, I’m going to pester you for information, I know it’s a pain, but just five minutes and then I’ll stop talking”.
7. Offer options for communicating with someone else
Help teenagers find opportunities to talk with another adult they trust. Organise for an aunt/family friend/older cousin to take the teen out for coffee or be with them and initiate conversation. Set up counselling sessions with a GP/school counsellor/psychologist. Communication that happens between a teenager and adult can have positive outcomes.
8. Don’t get frustrated, just try again tomorrow
If the teenager still doesn’t want to talk, don’t take it personally. It’s not your fault – or theirs. It’s just the teenage brain focussing on other things. Try again tomorrow. And the next day. Never give up on showing care and interest. Eventually they will start to talk, often when you least expect it.
By Kirrilie Smout, Clinical Psychologist Specialising in supporting Kids and Teens
Kirrilie helps kids and teens develop resilience, cope with tough times, feel better about themselves and manage worry, stress, frustration and sadness. Kirrilie works with a team of adolescent and child focussed psychologists at
Developing Minds in two locations in SA (City and South) and also speaks to young people and their parents and teachers in schools. More information, and free articles and resources for teachers and parents can be found at www.developingminds.net.au