When Parents Say, "They Won’t Tell Us"

“They won’t tell us.” That’s a common response I get when I ask parents how their teens enjoyed the Winter Retreat. I happen to know from being there that God did something very special in all of their lives, and that they had a really fun time, so take comfort that God was at work in your teens. Regardless of my assurances, wouldn’t it be nice if your teen would tell you themselves? Part of their secrecy is just normal teen behavior.

But there is another aspect of why they don’t tell us what’s happening that we can do something about. Sometimes our teens don’t tell us things because we don’t know how to approach them in a way that makes them want to disclose information to us, and more importantly, engage in healthy and meaningful conversation. Whether it’s about a youth event, what’s going on at school, or what they’re doing with their friends, here are some helpful tips from the chapter “My Teenager Won’t Talk To Me” in the book Bold Parents, Positive Teens.

How to Jump-Start Talking for Even the Most Reluctant Teen:

  • Use Praise. Few teenagers can resist a genuine compliment. . . . So every day tell your teens something different that you like about them. Include personality characteristics, wise choices, and appearance. . . .
  • Be Present. Be available at the time when your teens process the stuff of the day. For many this is right after school or when they get home from school and other after-school activities. Consider picking up your non-driving teen so you’ll have uninterrupted time to listen. Or stop what you’re doing when he or she walks in the door. If you’re at work, call daily at the time your teen arrives home, or have them call you at this time. This habit gives regular opportunities to connect.
  • Prompt but don’t Pry. Ask open-ended questions: “What did you like about that?” “How do you think they’ll act next?” “If you could do it over again, how would you change things?” Use your questions to invite conversations rather than pry.
  • Be Predictable. Establish talking time that your teen can count on. For [us] it’s the tradition of telling three things at supper. For you it might be working on a jigsaw puzzle every weekend, or just-you-and-me talking time during the regular drive to soccer practice.
  • Don’t Pounce. Pick up tidbits carefully so your teen won’t withdraw. Your teen will test you by sharing simple stuff before sharing the deep stuff. So when he says he saw a duck on the way home from practice, show that you’re interested. Even if he’s teasing you, go ahead and ask: “What was the duck doing?”

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