Tried-And-True Ways To Get A Quiet Teen To Open Up

by Susie b Cross
Originally Published: 
Two teens in winter war and one of them is zipping up the jacket of the other one who is a quiet tee...
tips for getting teens to talk

My 16-year-old has always been reticent. Not obstinately or defiantly reticent–but definitely more so than the typical boy. (I’ve done my research.) As far back as daycare, I had mini-sleuths who filled me in on his daily activities and any outstanding events of the day. I didn’t want them to snitch on him; I just wanted intel about things like some kid stealing his cot at nap time or him being a supremo line leader. I wanted information, dammit, and if I had to bribe his loose-lipped peers with Skittles to get it, so be it.

Unfortunately, his signature closed-mouthed-ness has never ceased, and now I have a high school sophomore who’s about as monosyllabic as they come. In fact, if he offers a two-syllable-plus response, it’s a rare treat. Did you do well on your Geometry test? Meh. How was your day? Tiring. Anything interesting at tennis today? No.

Unfortunately, the window for motivating private eyes with candy was over by middle school. So, now, what’s this undeterred mom to do? Here’s what I’m learning:

Don’t Ask A One-Word-Answerable Questions

I am wondering why this is news to me. Simple yes/no questions are obviously not the way to go, but they have been my default. Essentially, I have been giving my son an invitation to not talk for a decade and a half. It’s time to start asking more open-ended questions and let the conversation go where it may.

Practice Everyday–And Don’t Worry About “Going Too Deep”

They say that practice makes perfect, so this makes sense, right? My yes/no strategy has been on the wrong track, but one thing I did right was never wavering in my efforts. And if you just shoot the shit with your teen for a while (or as long as it takes), they are less likely to interpret your attempts at conversation as prying. As Psychology Today contributor Nancy Darling writes, before kids are willing to be vulnerable by talking about their insecurities and worries, “they probably need to talk about daily stuff.”

Don’t Put In Your 2 Cents

“The key,” says Raising Teens Today, “is to show interest in their world, offer them the support they need and refrain from judging, criticizing or piling on a boatload of questions.” Ugh. I am good and not judging or criticizing, but avoiding that “boatload of questions” is a tough one. Plus, throwing in a lecture is a sure way to get a reticent teen to zip their lips and retreat. No one, but no one, wants to listen to a tediously-instructive soliloquy.

Of course, there are more strategies out there–and I will try them all to get the right combo that will let me dig a little deeper into my teen’s mind and connect on another level. Meanwhile, I will heed the wise words of Tim Lott, parenting columnist for The Guardian: “…the best we can do is leave ourselves open. Not tug at their guts so that they will spill them, but simply let them know you are a safe space in which they can find comfort if they so wish.”

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