dad and son lying on floor wearing sunglasses, headphones

No Need To Grunt

Why can it be hard talking to teenagers? While I’ve written about this issue previously, many parents I speak to continue to report that they’re struggling to speak ‘grunt’ as a way of communicating with their teenagers.

While learning a new language is said to increase neuronal connections in the brain, there are better options. Below are five common reasons why your teenager may suddenly seem to have lost the power of speech. If you think one or more of these may apply, and you can make some relevant changes, you may reveal the eloquent teenager lurking beneath that grunting exterior.

Ask yourself:

  • Are they busy with something else and don’t want to be interrupted?
    The obvious things are music, gaming or texting, but teenagers also spend a lot of time just thinking! There’s a lot going on during the teenage years; adolescent brains are incredibly active processing new ideas, trying to make sense of so many things and attempting to integrate new ideas into their developing sense of self.
  • Are they worried about saying the wrong thing?
    As teenagers spend more time with peers and are influenced by social and other media they often develop parallel languages, to be used depending on who they’re with. Sometimes the boundaries get lost and language they use with their peers slips out when talking to a parent. Parents can sometimes react negatively to this, which leads to teenagers becoming anxious and clamming up rather than risking it happening again.

  • Are you trying to have a discussion in front of other people, such as siblings?
    Teenagers are in the process of forming their own opinions about many things, and so are sometimes reluctant to commit themselves to a particular viewpoint, due to a fear of being ridiculed, teased or humiliated.
  • Do they think a conversation with you is likely to be unpleasant, perhaps resulting in criticism or some sanctions?
    Teenagers may also believe their parents are going to probe into sensitive areas they’d prefer not to discuss because of embarrassment or discomfort.

  • Are they testing you to see if you’re serious?
    If you get a minimal response to your initial inquiry, try following it up with a similar question, phrased differently. But keep in mind the four possibilities listed above and don’t push too hard if they really are resistant.

For more on how to deal with these final two issues, see the previous blog on this topic.

If you can identify which of these possibilities might be contributing to your teenager’s lack of interest in having a conversation with you, it can help you figure out ways of dealing with it. Bear in mind there could be more than one factor at play, and it may not the same one in each situation.

Parenting teenagers becomes easier with the development of skills such as being able to tune into their moods and experiment with different responses. You won’t get it right all the time. Try statements such as:

  • I can see you’re busy right now. Perhaps we can talk about your homework on the weekend when we have some free time?
  • Maybe we can discuss this later after your brother has gone out/gone to bed?
  • There’s something important I’d like to talk to you about. When would be a good time for you?

The bottom line is that it’s our job as parents to help our teenagers develop a flexible, effective communication system that will work in different settings. Take the lead and give them some alternatives to “Uh/Uh-uh” rather than simply waiting for them to grow out of it.