How do I talk to my child when they won't talk to me?

What guidance does the Bible provide?

A teenager that isn't speaking can be a difficult time and difficult process. Sadly, there are no concrete examples of a silent teenager in scripture. The Bible does give some specific guidance when it comes to communication and parenting. There Bible does talk about how children should honor their parents, but it never said anything about having to talk to them. So when communication breaks down on one end it is important to remember the words of James 1:19, "...everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry…"(NIV). It is so vital to remember this the entire time that you are dealing with your teenager, and the silent treatment. When you are quick to listen, it means that you are willing to listen to your teen anytime they are ready to talk, no matter the inconvenience. Being slow to speak focuses on your delivery, and that way that you approach your teenager with tenderness, love, and care. Paul agrees with James, and his words of being slow to anger, in Ephesians 6:4 saying "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in training and instruction of the Lord" (NIV). It is so easy to feel frustrated or to feel defeated when your teen decides not to talk with you anymore. One of the key things that the Bible teaches us is to be patient, be loving, and be caring to our children; even when our emotions, stress level, or calendar says otherwise.

Things to think about:

If your teenager is no longer talking to you, don't give up! It is absolutely normal for teens to begin to disconnect from their parents, and one of the many ways this happens is through the absence of talking to you. Teens are learning how to be independent, and they begin to internalize a lot of emotions and ideas. However, the reason that they stop talking with you can vary. When your teen stops talking here are a few questions that you need to ask yourself, to help determine the cause of the silence:

  • Has there been a problem in one of my child's relationships (friends, dating, etc.)?
  • Do they seem stressed from sports or school work?
  • Has there been a fight lately between us?
  • Do we have an existing parent/child relationship in which we consistently and honestly share with each other?
  • Do you listen well when you do talk? Are you judgmental or angered easily when talking with your child?

It is normal for a teen to stop talking to a parent for a period of time, but there could also be a particular reason for the silence. Generally speaking, there is always a reason for their silence. The reason could be a feeling of insecurity, feeling overprotected by parents, or even a lack of feeling heard.

What do I do now?

Once you have figured out a reason your teen isn't talking to you anymore, now is the time to figure out how to best reach out to them. Here are some principles and ideas to help reach out to your teen and not make the situation worse:

  • Don't overcome their silence by being overly talkative or trying to communicate more than usual.
  • Keep talking to them, and don't be silent as they are.
  • Make sure they still feel a part of the family; whether that is nightly dinners or family events. Let them know that they are still a part of the family, even if they don't feel like talking or communicating.
  • Start talking about the easy things first. Your teen will not immediately open up about deep issues.
  • Be open, honest, and a good listener. Teenagers want a conversation that is open and honest, and they want to be heard. Your #1 agenda with each conversation should be to listen.
  • Ask specific questions. "How are things going?" is a vague question that can be answered with a simple "good". Learn to ask specific questions. For example, "what was the best part of your day?".
  • Find the best time to talk to them. The best time for you to talk, may not be the best time for them to talk. Some teens have more energy or time to talk in the evenings, or on the way to school.
  • Communicate to them in unique ways. Send them a text. Write them a letter or a note. Put a note on their bathroom mirror. They may not want to hear you talk or talk with you, but they will still read a note.

Again, a teen that doesn't want to talk to you can be frustrating and difficult. However, there is lots of hope if you as a parent continue to work on the relationship. It takes time, patience, and humility to reach the heart and mind of your teenager.

Want to go deeper?

How to Talk to a Reluctant Teen - Great article from Focus on the Family that gives great practical tips on how to talk to a reluctant teen.

Teens and Barriers to Talking - Article dealing with barriers to teens talking to their parents

"How To Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk" - a Secular book about communication to and with teenagers.

My Teen Stopped Talking to Me - Article with different scenarios of why teens stop talking, and possible ways to overcome.