You want to help your teen open up to you, but you don’t know how. You want to be able to sit down and have serious, meaningful conversations with your teenager.. Of course, you love your teen and want to ensure that you’re doing everything in your power,
Teens can be closed off and feel like no one understands them. If you try to ask about something, they might snap back at you and get even more closed off. In reality, all your teen wants to do is have you be there for them. Maybe they feel like they don’t know how to open up about it themselves.
Talking about mental health can feel like a sort of taboo to some. It like it’s maybe just an overreaction, dramatic response to something going on. However, the distress of your teen is real and should be validated. As the parent, you have so much power in making your teen feel comfortable and vulnerable with their struggles, even if you don’t fully understand it. You have the power to help your teen open up.
Maybe it plays out for your family like this..
Your teenage son just got home from being out with friends. You hear the front door open and slam behind him. You are suddenly irritated by this behavior, as you hear him stomping upstairs to his room. He then slams his door again, maybe even louder this time. You hear a sort of sniffle, maybe even a cry escape his mouth.
This is unacceptable, you say to yourself. You storm up there and knock on his door, asking for him to unlock it. Ultimately you are standing there with your hands on your hips, frustrated at his behavior right now. You don’t understand why he can’t just spit it out and tell you what happened.
He yells out “go away, I don’t want to talk to anyone!”.
This makes you feel disrespected as he did not open the door and apologize for his slamming. You just don’t understand how he can storm in the house and lock himself away in his room without saying anything.
Your son has a history of subduing his feelings. Ultimately hiding them away or even hiding himself away when it becomes too much to handle. Maybe your family has certain values or expectations they place on males. Maybe they’re expected to not struggle with mental illness and be “man enough” to face it on their own.
You believed that too, but now you’re getting genuinely concerned about him. Did something happen with his girlfriend? Did he get in an argument with his friends? Maybe he’s been feeling bad about himself lately. He told me he feels stupid, he’s not doing too great in school right now, it’s possible he’s really suffering and facing all these negative thoughts alone.
The truth is, a lot of teens suffer silently.
They feel like they can’t open up about certain things. Therefore, they’d rather suffer in silence than come to you and potentially risk having to deal with the consequences.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage serious, meaningful conversations with your kids without the fear of them being punished for their actions. As their parent, you have a lot of influence on how they think about themselves and others as well as interact with others. Ever since they were little kids, they’ve been watching you, imitating you, and trying to be the hero they imagined you to be. Now, it’s really time to be their hero.
In teen therapy in Simi Valley, CA, our therapists are highly experienced in working with teens who are facing issues of anxiety, depression, body image, stress or anger management, and more.
“You won’t get in trouble if you tell me what happened.”
As mentioned earlier, teens may not come to you and spill all of the details if they believe they may deal with consequences for it. This could look like your teen smoking marijuana for the first time and having a bad experience, leading to them being in a really bad mood. They may be hesitant in telling you about their substance use in the fear that you’ll respond negatively, and not focus on the issue at hand.
Or, your teen snuck out late one night with a group of kids that you get a bad feeling from. They may worry that you’ll take them away from that group, even though they don’t yet realize they shouldn’t be hanging out in the first place.
A good starter sentence to face your teen in anguish is “you won’t get in trouble if you tell me what happened”.
Not only does this encourage honesty and vulnerability, but you can also develop a much closer connection with your child. They know your rules and want to respect them, but teens can only want independence so much until they try to get a taste for it.
You need to hold up on your word that they won’t get in trouble, which may be difficult for you. You want your teen to feel like they can go to you and trust you, but you still want to implement important rules surrounding protecting them.
When your teen explains what happened, and it goes against your household rules, just take a moment to breathe and think it over. You may even want to separate so you can think with a clear mind, and reconnect later on to discuss how you want to be there for your child.
Explain to your teen that you’re thankful for them opening up to you, and it must’ve been hard. You don’t want them to be nervous about facing repercussions from their actions. Of course, you care about them and want to ensure that they don’t do it again, but you need to earn each other’s trust. You can make a comment like, “I truly don’t want you hanging out with those people or using that substance again as it clearly upset you right now”, and see if you can compromise with your teen on how you can trust them.
Our simi valley therapists can help support you and your teen to develop open communication so that you can create a relationship built on trust and connection.
Help your teen open up: Show them that you care through your words and actions.
Starter sentences don’t have to be complex or specific, and they could just be something small and meaningful. You may ask them all of the time how they are doing and how their day was, receiving the response of “fine” or maybe nothing at all.
If you notice your teen’s behavior is off and they may be struggling with something internally, genuinely look at them and ask them, “Hey, I just want you to know that I’m here to listen to you and support you.”
This shows them that you recognize something is going on with them, and it makes them feel like they aren’t invisible to you – that you truly do care about their feelings. You can show them that you care in the moment of seeing them in anguish.
If you want to be more specific, you can tell them, “I’m concerned for you. You seem to be depressed/frustrated/angry/anxious right now, and I see it. I want to see if I can do anything to help you or make you feel better”. In online teen therapy in Los Angeles we can support your teen and help them use you as support as well.
Help your teen open up: “I may not understand fully how you’re feeling, but I want to get a sense”.
This statement has minimal pressure to open up fully right off the bat. It acknowledges the fact that you don’t understand fully how they are feeling. As a parent, our teens like to keep their emotional life hidden from us and deal with that either within their social groups or independently.
Different cultures and different generations bear different perspectives on mental health and its legitimacy. If you’re willing to challenge yourself and open up to this, you can truly be there for your teen. And they will know it too.
Your teen feels like no one else could possibly comprehend what’s going on with them. They may feel so alone in their world, so different from the rest.
In reality, we all happen to experience similar symptoms of anxiety, stress, and feeling down.
But everyone’s story for feeling that way is very complicated and complex, not that easy to trace back.
You can surely understand a state of worry or anxiety, like when you forgot your wallet at home half way through a road trip, or that anxious feeling of your kid coming on at the school play when they were little. You can understand if they feel depressed, as you yourself have felt sluggish, unmotivated, and fed up with life. However, that’s just the tip of their iceberg.
“I really care about you and I want to be here for you. Can you explain what happened?”
Many teens don’t feel comfortable opening up to their parents. Why should I open up to you about anything?”, showing signs of obvious defensiveness, reluctance to open up, and feeling that I’d be judged or condescended.
The truth is that parents just want to express how much they care about their teens and want them to feel like they can confide in them. Parents are the ones who raised them and seen them through all developmental stages thus far.
Make it clear that it’s okay if they would prefer to speak to a professional. Sometimes, it may be better if you’re still unsure on what to say or to do to comfort them. Offer to help them by saying you can assist in finding a therapist. Let them know that they can talk to you whenever.
Help your teen open up: “I see you’re feeling frustrated right now. Are you wanting to talk now or should I check in with you later?”
Maybe your teen is unapproachable right now. And that’s ok. You don’t want to force them to sit down and talk with you as that can leave them feeling more irritable and less willing to talk. Imagine that your teen reacted like the son in our scenario – closed off, retreating, and needing alone time.
Giving your teen space and alone time is very important so that they don’t feel pressured, cornered, or suffocated by your presence. Your teen will appreciate that you’ve given them some space, granted that there are no signs of physical violence towards themselves or objects in their room where you’d need to intrude.
The teenage years aren’t easy. Teens need space, but love and care from a distance (and up close..) all at the same time. They need to know you’re there for them to protect them and provide for them, but want a sense of independence as well.
If you’re feeling you need some additional support, give us a call at Simi Psychological Group. We value working together as a family, and believe that family dynamics are important for effective communication, managing stress or anger, and being able to function together again as a whole. Our team of therapists and psychologists want to make sure you have the tools to best support your teen and help your teen open up.