My Teen Daughter Refuses to Tell Me What's Upsetting Her!

Filed under: Social & Emotional Growth: Tweens, Expert Advice: Tweens, Social & Emotional Growth: Teens, Expert Advice: Teens

Dear AdviceMama,

How do I get my teenage daughter to speak to me? She always seems to be in a bad mood, no matter what the problem may be. Even if it has nothing to do with me she takes her anger out on me. I've tried talking to her and explaining that she can't hate the world or me if things don't always go as she would like it. It doesn't seem to matter what I say, she still refuses to speak to me for a week if not a month, if she's upset about something. And she'll never tell me what she's upset about.

Daughter Distant

Dear Daughter Distant,

Most parents believe that as their children move into adolescence, they no longer want the companionship or advice of mom and dad.

Society fuels this myth, resulting in the fact that many parents give up on having any kind of meaningful relationship with their kids once they hit their teen years. They accept the lack of eye contact, preference for friends over family, and their teen's resistance to opening up to them about the challenges they're facing.

Speaking as someone who has spent thousands of hours with hundreds of teens, I can tell you this: Adolescents want and need to feel deeply connected to their parents. They have a profound longing to be seen, guided and understood by the important adults in their life.

The problem is that the way we approach our teenagers triggers their instincts to retreat rather than come toward us. We unknowingly send messages to our kids about whether we can or cannot hear what they need to tell us.

Usually, a teen refuses to confide in a parent because, when they've done so in the past, that parent has reacted with unwanted lectures, advice or criticism. In a sense, we "teach" our kids that it's not OK to tell us their truth, so they give up trying and shut down. It's common that kids who feel stressed will take their frustration out on those they feel closest to -- in this case, you.

Your daughter's anger and withdrawal are probably as much a function of her feeling overwhelmed by the challenges of her adolescent life as they are about you. In other words, don't take her bad mood personally. While there may be things you're doing to aggravate things, it's just as likely that her angry mood is a function of other problems she's facing. Do, however, take it as a sign that she needs to offload her difficulties, and that she needs you to become a safe haven for her to do so.

Tell your daughter that you know she's upset, and that you're willing to listen to her without interrupting, advising or criticizing. Be caring and kind as she talks, and don't give advice without asking if she wants it. She'll gradually find out how good it feels to have you to confide in, and will open up about what's really bothering her ... if you're patient enough to let her do so without rushing things, or making her wrong about what she's thinking and feeling.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.