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#97 When Your Sad Teen Won’t Open Up

Communicating with teens can be a challenge. And it can only get harder when they are sad, stressed, or grumpy. Maybe they come home and are just furiously texting or maybe they come home and they rush to their room or they hang out in the family area, but they just don’t engage with you, despite your sweet, sincere attempts to figure out what’s wrong. Psychologist Lisa Damour, who wrote Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, has identified 4 reasons why your teenager may not be talking to you when they are upset. In this episode we talk about all 4 of them and what you can do to get your teen to open up to you.

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IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT…

Communicating with teens can be a challenge. And it can only get harder when they are sad, stressed, or grumpy.

Psychologist Lisa Damour, who wrote Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, has identified 4 reasons why your teenager may not be talking to you when they are upset.

1.     They worry you’ll have the wrong reaction.

  • Your kids know you pretty well having studied you and seeing your reactions to their behavior their entire lives. So they may rightly worry that by telling you that they bombed a test that you will react by talking about how that’s unacceptable.

The fix:

  • You have to be able to keep yourself from having exactly that bad reaction.
  • Then, start the conversation by saying, “Are you worried that I’ll have a bad reaction?” This can be a really hard conversation for parents because if this is happening, your kid could tell you exactly what they are worried about happening and they could be totally right and that could really make you feel attacked and you could start getting defensive.
  • By having this conversation that is more about your reactions, you lay the groundwork for later conversations when your teen comes home and will feel more comfortable opening up to you because you will have hopefully figured out how to react in a way that your teen appreciates and that makes your teen feel safe opening up to you.

2.     They anticipate negative repercussions.

  • If they have done something wrong, made a mistake, or maybe one of their friends did something bad, they may worry that telling you will have a negative consequence for them.

The fix:

  • As Lisa says, “there are two rules I live by: good kids do dumb things, and I never have the whole story.”
  • This isn’t to say that there are no consequences, often there need to be consequences. Encourage your kid to take responsibility and think about their actions and do what is right. We all make mistakes and have to learn how to make up for them. This conversation teaches your kid how to start doing that

3.     They know that parents sometimes blab.

  • Especially as kids get older, they start wanting to have more secrets. And so if they realize that you have shared their top secret information with someone else, they may stop telling you those things that they don’t want shared.

The fix:

  • If you have accidentally broken your kids’ trust, the answer is simple: apologize. It may take time for your kid to test you and trust you again, but it’s a good first step.
  • If you are just trying to get ahead of this one, just promise them that what they say at home to you will remain between the two of you (and maybe your co-parent as well). And if there is ever something that is top secret, you could ask that they remind you ahead of time that this is really super private.
  • Let your kids know that if someone is in danger, you will have to tell other adults.

4.     Talking doesn’t feel like the solution.

  • Sometimes kids have already been processing what they’re going through so much that they are just tired of it. They may be so close to getting over whatever it was, they don’t want to rehash it all. They just want to move on quickly.

The fix:

  • Just give some basic comfort – hanging out with them, watching TV, chatting about silly stuff, or quietly snuggling them

Using these “fixes” to help improve your communication can make life smoother for them and for you and really enhance your relationship.

Resource:Damour, L. (2017). “Why your grumpy teenager doesn’t want to talk to you.”The New York Times.

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