This Post: Why Teens Are Hesitant to Talk to Their Parents
Written By: Jessica Manning
My daycare provider used to give me a daily report on my boys when they were babies – how many ounces they drank, how often she changed their diapers, and how long they napped. As a working mom who lamented not spending the day with my babies, I studied the details of her notes every time I picked them up from her house.
Now that my boys are teenagers, one might think I would have outgrown the need to gather the details of my babies’ days… but I haven’t.
I still have the desire to hear about their day – who they partnered with in science, who they ate with at lunch, what they ate, how they think they did on their big math test they were worried about, the drills at practice – my heart still longs to know it all.
I remember when they were in elementary school, they’d walk in the door eager to share all the nitty-gritty details about their school day. My favorites were the detailed play-by-play statistics from recess football. Little did I know at the time that their days of sharing everything about their day were numbered.
As much as I’d love to sit down with my boys and have them give me the lowdown on their day, they certainly don’t readily share like they used to.
Why Teens Are Hesitant to Talk to Their Parents
Why is it that so many kids become tight-lipped when they become teenagers? It might be surprising to learn that it has as much to do with us, as parents, as it does with where our kids are developmentally.
As a high school counselor, I always encourage my students to talk to their parents about our conversations, about what’s happening in their lives and any struggles they might have, but many respond that they probably won’t.
Students give great parenting advice, even when they don’t realize they’re giving it. So when I ask, “What makes you hesitant to talk to your parents about this?” I listen to their answers. Here is what my students say…
Why Teens Are Hesitant to Talk to Their Parents:
“They’ll Ask Too Many Questions”
Teens have learned through experience that sometimes it’s just easier not to say anything. Answering a lot of questions can be exhausting for teenagers; it truly isn’t easy for them to verbalize their thoughts.
I understand parents’ need for clarification – half the time my kids’ stories don’t make complete sense to me, and I feel like I’m missing something. But when we ask rapid-fire questions, it feels like an overwhelming interrogation. If your teen can predict that they’ll be interrogated every time they tell you something, quite often, they’ll become tight-lipped.
“They’ll Turn It Into a Life Lesson”
I have an amazing (my kids say, “annoying”) ability to turn virtually any topic my boys and I discuss into a life lesson; I can hardly stop myself from imparting my infinite parental wisdom upon them.
My students, however, have taught me that wisdom falls upon deaf ears when it’s overboard. See if you can catch, and stop, yourself from teaching your kids something every time they share.
Of course, some opportunities to toss in a quick life lesson or lecture simply can’t be ignored, but save the BIG life lesson lectures for the ones that really matter. No one, especially a teenager, wants to hear a one-sided lecture when they are expecting a simple conversation.
“They’ll Judge My Friends”
A lot of parents are quick to judge other people’s kids, and our teens know it. But we have to remember that our kids’ friends are more than friends to them, they’re more like family. And, they want us to like their friends just as much as they do.
If we want to remain privy to the details of our kids’ days, (including the occasional arguments they get into with their besties), it’s best to keep our judgments to ourselves. Plus, kids get to see every side of their closest friends, we don’t. We don’t know their friends as well as they do. If a story might negatively sway your opinion of their friend, chances are you’re not going to hear it.
“They’ll Overreact and Get Involved”
I was recently working with a student on a situation that I felt her parents needed to be aware of. The student asked me to call her dad instead of her mom, because her mom would, “turn it into a big deal.” It gave me pause because although I’ve learned to remain relatively uninvolved in my kids’ affairs, I still tend to make things bigger than they need to be.
Many times, kids just want their parents to listen and validate their feelings. They want to feel heard. In my experience with teens, it is a rarity for parents’ unsolicited involvement to make a situation better.
Most often, kids figure things out themselves. If they can’t trust that we won’t overreact and step in, teens just simply won’t tell us what’s going on. My best advice is to follow their lead on your emotional response to their circumstances.
“They’ll Dish Out Punishment or a Consequence”
Not every “wrong” choice needs a consequence. Teenagers are still learning; sometimes processing their choices and facing the natural consequences of them are enough.
People often ask me how I can stand all the drama of working with teenagers, but I never think of it that way. I try very hard to always respond to students with love and empathy. They’re still learning how to exist in this world, and they’re going to make mistakes. When teens face the possibility of getting in trouble when they’re transparent, they’re less likely to be forthcoming.
With my kids, I want them to trust that, no matter what, I will respond with understanding and love. If they trust me, I know they’ll be more likely to confide in me.
Quite often, it’s a kid’s natural temperament that determines whether they’re a “talker” at home.
But for those of us who feel like we’re pulling teeth just to hear the slightest details, I believe my students’ thoughts are on target. Since I crave hearing all of it, I have to practice biting my tongue and just truly listening while my boys do the talking. I’ll save all my wisdom for my dog, instead…or my husband.
About Jessica Manning
Jessica is a high school counselor with over 20 years of experience working with teenagers. She earned an M.A. in school counseling and a B.A. in English and secondary education. Jessica is married to a high school principal and has three teenage boys; her current life revolves around all things teen. When not working or following her sons’ sporting events, Jessica appreciates any opportunity she gets to veg at home with her family and her dog, Phyllis.