The Therapist-Approved Hack to Talk to a Teen Who Doesn’t Want to Talk

Isn’t it weird (and by weird, we mean frustrating) that although adolescents are all about raging hormones, big feelings and change, every time you try to talk to yours it’s like talking to a brick wall? Except this brick wall has a cell phone and communicates in eye rolls and grunting.

And while you don’t expect to know everything that is going on with your teen, it sure would be nice if you could get a little glimpse of what’s happening in that brain of hers. You know, maybe even have an enlightening conversation once in a while. But whenever you try to connect with them over the dinner table, you get nothing. Here’s a tip from family therapists and fellow teen parents that just might do the trick: Talk to your kid in the car.

“Sitting next to your teen…means that you aren’t directly looking each other in the eyes,” explains child psychologist Tamara Glen Soles, PhD. “This often makes it easier for teens to open up and be vulnerable,” she adds.

California parent Mirissa has a 14-year-old daughter and swears that talking to her teen in the car is the best way to get a conversation rolling. “I find that going for a ride in the car is a great way to connect with my teen daughter,” she tells us. “We can play music and talk and she seems more relaxed than when we sit down at home. Over quarantine, we would drive to the Starbucks drive-through as an activity to break up the long days and I found that by the ride home she was sharing things with me that I don't think I would have learned otherwise.”

Indeed, chit-chatting in the car takes the pressure off, plus has the added benefit of minimizing distractions (OK, you may still have to compete with the phone but when are you not doing that?). It’s also one of the few times where you can almost guarantee a captive audience, since your teen can’t exactly leave.

Oh and when it comes to who should control the radio—let your kid choose what to listen to, advises therapist Jacqueline Ravelo: “When you give your teenager the opportunity to choose the music, you’re doing a few things. 1. You’re putting them at ease. 2. You’re taking any potential defiance out of the equation because they are making a choice and 3. You’re letting them know that their choices/taste in music/opinion matters.”

If your teen’s taste in music tends to veer into rude territory, you can still let them decide what to play but just ask that they don’t play anything with cursing or violent lyrics. “By letting your teen choose the music, you are giving them a moment to be able to relax and they will be more receptive to opening up to you,” says Ravelo.

In fact, putting on their favorite artist or song might even be a great way to start a conversation. Both Soles and Ravelo stress that when it comes to getting teenagers to talk about themselves or their day, specificity is key. Think: “How did you find out about this artist?” or “What are some other bands that you’re into right now?” (and not, “So how was your day?”).

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Executive Editor

Alexia Dellner is an executive editor at PureWow who has over ten years of experience covering a broad range of topics including health, wellness, travel, family, culture and...