Cracking the Teen Code of Silence

“He never tells me anything” is a common phrase I hear from parents. What I tell parents is that this silence demonstrates a developmentally appropriate change as children mature toward independence. This independence includes managing privacy, forming a unique identity, and being more savvy about what they say to whom, among other skills. 


Parents begin in earnest the shift from teacher to advisor around this time. The struggle to get information out of your formerly forthcoming child is representative of this natural change in your parenting. Privacy does not mean never telling anything to anyone ever again. Mature privacy and independence includes self-disclosure and freely offering information to people who need it to help you. Your teen still needs your help with this skill.


Most parents know to avoid questions that solicit one-word answers. “How was school?” doesn’t really work anymore to connect with your teen. You train yourself to ask the question in a different way, like, “Tell me something exciting about your day.” Switching the question up daily, and allowing more time to talk (or be silent together) are both strategies that parents report increases the amount of self-disclosure and conversation with their child. I can recommend these strategies to you, but I have an even better suggestion for you: notice when you give unsolicited advice.


Adults have an impulse to end every conversation with a teen with a moral lesson, advice, warning, or opinion. Switch your focus from correcting and instructing to conversing to understand, appreciate, and explore your teen’s experience and perspectives. Talk in a way that says you are more interested in your child’s opinion than your own opinion. I have trained myself to ask people if they want me to just listen or give advice. People almost always say they want me to just listen. Usually the flood of information that follows enhances our relationship and helps the speaker arrive at their own lesson, plan, or opinion.

Posted in Articles, Parenting.