Schedule an Appointment Video Therapy Available. Call 678-893-5300.

Schedule Online

How to Talk to Get Your Teen to Listen

Written by: Jasmine Forrest, M.A.
How to Talk to Get Your Teen to Listen

Ever had a difficult time getting your teen to open up to you? Are they moody, and if you dare to ask what is wrong, all they say is “I don’t know”? The teen years are a time of tremendous change for teens. It is the last step towards adulthood. They are trying to figure who they are, how they feel, and whom they love. Their values, opinions, and perceptions are fluid and unpredictable. “Teens often don’t know what they think or feel because on an almost daily basis, they are becoming a different person.” Due to these changes, that is why sometimes you get the dreaded answer of “I don’t know” or no answer at all. However, there are things you can do to help improve communication between you and your teen to get them to be more open.

1. Contain and Empathize. Remember that your teen is feeling a lot of emotions, and they are unsure of exactly how they are feeling. They need your help to sort through and understand their emotions. Your job as a parent is to listen, give compassion, and feed back the emotions so that your teen can then absorb them in a more meaningful and less extreme way.

An example of what this may look like:

Let’s say your fourteen-year-old daughter came home from a party depressed and angry because of something that happened. To contain her feelings and empathize with her, you might say something like this: “Brooke, I know you’re hurt by how Kelly treated you at the party. She got between you and your other friends, and it really embarrassed you. I can see why you’d feel sad and alone.”

2. Clarify. If your teen is still upset after you have contained and empathized with how they are feeling, you can offer clarification. When you give clarification, you can give your perspective on what is happening. As you share your perspective, it’s important not to be patronizing or condescending and remain respectful for how they are feeling.

An example of what this may look like:

Continuing with the previous example, let’s say Brooke was still upset after you contained and empathized with her emotions. You could give clarification by stating, “Brooke, you should be upset by what Kelly did. It was hurtful. At the same time, I want you to remember that the girls who are really on your side won’t leave you, because you have some really solid and good friends. You are a good person, and good people like you and will continue to like you.”

If you are having challenges with communication between you and your teen, you do not have to figure this out on your own. You can work with a therapist to learn and practice communication skills and work through any barriers that may be preventing effective communication.


Townsend, John Sims. Boundaries with Teens: When to Say Yes, How to Say No. Zondervan, 2006.