My 13-Year -Old Doesn’t Tell Me Anything Anymore!


Dear Mike:

When he was little, my son used to tell me everything.   Now he’s 13 and is becoming a stereotypical teenager.  He doesn’t tell me anything!   I’d just like to have a conversation with him once in a while.  If I ask him how school was, all I get is a one-word response.   How can I get my child to talk to me (even a little)?    Concerned.

Dear Concerned:

Sometimes, when our children enter the teen years, we don’t recognize them anymore!  They have become someone different.  Where did my child go?  And who is this little new creature in front of me?

What you are experiencing, of course, is quite typical.  Not all children become mute (at least to their parents) as they enter their teens, but many do.   How can we get our children to open up?

Perhaps the worst way to get a conversation moving is the way that we all use most frequently.  Indeed: “How was school today?” is a non-starter.   If I’m a teen, I’m thinking, “telling you about my school day is boring.   And besides, it’s my school day and you are my parent.  I’m embarrassed to let you into my school day.   And all you want to hear about is science, and you never want to hear about video games or what really interests me.   Telling you about my day is patently uncool.”

So, what’s a parent to do?   First, instead of asking about your child’s day, or even trying to initiate conversation in a formal and direct way, consider looking for other opportunities.  Listen carefully for what your child does say (rather than what she doesn’t say).    Identify what is of interest to your child at any given moment, express interest by making an affirming comment.   If your child is playing a video game, you might say, “that looks like fun” or “what are those weird green things?”  Your video game loving kid will not be able to resist telling you what those weird green things are.   If you hear your child talk about kickball during recess, simply restate something she said: “So you were the pitcher today in kickball, huh?”   That simple statement might be enough to open the floodgates.  If your child sighs deeply when doing her homework, you might say, “Homework can be such a pain!”  You might hear your child say, “Yeah, and Mr. Shore gives us so much homework!  It’s so unfair.  Like today he…”

If you are successful in getting your child to talk, avoid the temptation to preach and lecture when you hear something you don’t like.   For most kids, that is a surefire way to end the conversation.

Another way to initiate conversation is to develop a family routine or tradition.  I know a family in which the parents ask their children three questions every day:  “What went well today?”  “What didn’t go especially well today?”  “What did you learn today?”  By making this set of questions routine, showing deep interest in what children say, and by showing that you believe that the asking and answering of such questions to be a good thing, you may find your child opening up.  This is especially true if you participate yourself in the answering these questions.   Kids, like adults, like to complain about the bad stuff that went on during the day.  And they really enjoy learning the bad stuff that happens to you during your day.

So, don’t try too hard!  Instead, invite conversation indirectly by focusing on your child’s interests, or institute a family tradition in which you all participate together in some story telling.  When we do it together, it’s not something you just want me to do; it’s something that we all do.