How to talk with a teenager who doesn’t want to talk: A Play Therapists’ secret to teen communication


Many parents are extremely frustrated by what they feel is a lack of communication between themselves and their teen. With good reason, they are alarmed, because they intuitively know that if the teen keeps everything a secret from them, it will be quite difficult to effectively parent! But the more they make efforts to get the youngster to open up, the more he or she resists. Therefore, the question still remains, “How to talk with a teenager who doesn’t want to talk?” This article will help you answer that important question.

Rule #1: When your teen does tell you something, don’t overreact!

I can’t emphasize this principle enough! The main reason teenagers hide things from their parents, is that if they do reveal something, they fear their parents’ reaction. Either they fear the parent will get angry or upset. Or often they fear the parent will criticize, rebuke or reprimand them. Or they fear the parent will tell them what to do and limit their freedom and self-determination. Or they fear that the parent will judge and shame them for revealing delicate information about their fledgling, developing self. Or even it could be as simple as they fear their parents’ reaction will not be cool, such as it may be embarrassing or unpleasant. Let’s go through each of these items in detail.

How to talk with a teenager who doesn’t want to talk: Fear of anger, reprimands, or disapproval


It may not seem like it, but teens desperately need the approval of us as parents. They wither in shame under disapproval, rebuke or parental anger, because such attitudes threaten their fragile developing self-esteem and self-confidence. If you have found out things about them in the past, and it resulted in your disapproval, the teen will think, “Last time I told them I got a very unpleasant reprimand. I definitely don’t want that to happen again, therefore the safest bet is to not tell them!” So the solution is to respond to anything your teen tells you with a cool, calm, accepting attitude. Don’t rebuke him or her, even if he did something legitimately wrong, and above all, don’t show anger! The truth is, it is much preferable that the teen do risky things and tell you about it, than to do those things and not tell you! At least if he tells you, you can guide him to make smart choices. But if he’s afraid of your reprimands, disapproval or anger, he will keep everything a secret and will rely on his own judgement, which due to his age, is woefully inadequate!

Let’s say for example you find out your teen pulled a prank or was misbehaving in school. The best advice is to surprise your teen by being totally cool about it, as if he did nothing wrong: “Ok so you cheated on a test, I did that too a few times as a kid… what was easier, the effort, guilt and stress involved in cheating, or actually studying for the test?” The point is that such mischief, including such things as smoking and contact with the opposite sex, are normal for teens and no reason to overreact. If you accept all these reports with a smile, then they will confide in you and you can guide them to avoid all the pitfalls!

Fear of Criticism


Criticism is the number 1 parenting error! It destroys kids’ self-esteem and emotional health. Even so-called constructive criticism does more harm than good. Teens shudder under parental criticism, and they will do anything to avoid it, including hiding important information from their parents, even to the point of danger. Therefore it pays to be meticulous to avoid criticism of your teen across the board. Most of his errors will correct themselves on their own anyway. If it is something important that you absolutely must tell him, such as in a case of risk of danger, preface your pointer by calling attention to all the wonderful things your teen has done, and how much you admire him, and then extremely gently point out his mistake.

If you can get your teen into the habit of thinking, “Hmm… if I tell Mom she will be cool… she won’t criticize me…” then he will reveal to you everything because the truth is, kids would love to be able to confide in their parents! They desperately need that guidance from someone they can trust. We just have to remove obstacles that block that confidence.

Fear of limits to freedom


Teens desperately need a level of freedom that is appropriate for their age. If they are not getting enough of it, they will be very angry, frustrated and upset. If they reveal things to their parent, such as their plan to go to a wild party, and the parent responds by restricting and limiting their freedom to do such things, they will simply stop confiding in them! Therefore it pays to not overreact and allow as much freedom as is safely possible. Better they should go to a party under your guidance and advisement, than secretly and blindly!

Fear of judgement and shame

A teen’s sense of self is developing and very fragile. Therefore they are very worried that their parents might judge them or make them feel ashamed. Believe it or not they value our opinion of them more than of anyone else ! So it pays to always show support, encouragement and admiration for your teen. Let them know how highly you think of them, don’t praise directly, but call attention to specific good things they did, such as, “Wow, you installed those shelves all by yourself! That was really helpful.” And “That lipstick looks great with your top.” The secret is to get them to themselves conclude that they are good. That will create true self-esteem. But if we judge or evaluate them, even positively or certainly negatively, that will create unhealthy other-esteem. Basically the rule is, always respond in a way that makes your teen feel good! Always cause pleasure! Then he or she will always happily reveal everything to you.

The need to be a cool parent


Teenagers need for us as parents to be cool. What does that mean? It means they need for us to understand their point of view, that what is important to them is important to us. It means we have to let them know, we know how they feel! It means we have to put their needs for happiness first. It means we have to show them that we will be sincere and extremely kind to them. It means that we show them that we will not overreact and cause them stress! If you can communicate all of this to them when they reveal things, they will feel much more comfortable revealing things in the future!

Drugs and sex


Sooner or later almost all teens experiment with these things, and if they don’t do so now, they will do so in college. So it pays to be totally cool and open with these topics. Ask them openly at the appropriate age, “Are your friends smoking pot? Have you tried it yet? Ok, how did you like it? Just be aware that some drugs can be dangerous, you can wig out and lose your mind over them! Promise me you will tell me when you’re experimenting with a new drug so I can help you do it in a safe way.” Don’t fear that you are condoning or encouraging drug use. They are going to do it anyway no matter what you do! The trick is to have them do it under your guidance, and you will see, you will actually be able to convince them to willingly reduce drug use and avoid danger!

Ask your daughter, “How’s it going with your new boyfriend? Are you guys fooling around yet? Are you thinking of going all the way? I just want you to know that sex can be fun, but it can also be very risky for girls. Why? Because it can lead to you falling in love and then getting a broken heart! In addition, I don’t want you to do something you will regret. Promise me you will tell me before you take the next step, I want to guide you so that you will have a happy outcome and don’t make any mistakes!”

It is much better that they have teenage sex and tell you about it, than if they have it and don’t!


This can be a big problem for boys and men. Of course I highly recommend strict parental controls such as, and you have to be tech-savvy and know if they’re getting around the parental controls, but more important than that is your relationship with your son. You have to talk openly about sex and pornography and explain to him, that if he gets too into porn and masturbation when he is young, it will prevent him from having a healthy, real relationship with a woman when he gets older! I know many men who got so accustomed to it in their youth and never had relationships or got married. You need to teach your son that sex is something special that needs to be shared in the context of a special relationship, and the less he engages in porn and masturbation now, the more he will have left for a real intimate relationship later in life. You need to convince him that it is in his own benefit to refrain from these things!

The bottom line is you don’t want fear of rebuke, disapproval or punishment to be the motivation for teens to refrain from unhealthy activities.

You want the motivation to be the sincere desire to make wise choices, and the hope for parental approval and the pleasure of a warm parent-child relationship! 

Rule #2: Always be on your teenagers’ side in a conflict, even when he’s wrong, and always believe him, even when you suspect he’s lying!


If you get a report that your teen misbehaved or did something wrong, and he or she denies it or tells a different story, the worst idea is to believe the other adult and suspect your teen of lying! That will devastate your trusting relationship. The teen will think, “They never believe me anyway, I might as well lie all the time!” However is you display to your teen that you are willing to believe him no matter how much his story seems outlandish, just because you love him and he is your child, then one of 2 things will happen. If he is telling the truth, he will love you for believing him and he will always tell the truth and your relationship will flourish. And if he’s lying, he will think, “They are being so gracious and generous in believing me! I feel so guilty for lying. I will try and tell the truth more in the future and I see they will believe me and won’t get mad at me.”


But if you take the side of the teacher or other adult, your teen will feel enraged and betrayed and your relationship will deteriorate, and he for sure won’t confide in you any further! 

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