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Can't communicate with our teen -- HELP!

By Anonymous January 2, 2009 - 2:59pm
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We are having some major communication issues with our teenager, does anyone have any suggestions? We've tried to talk and clear the air and have even gone to counseling but nothing is helping. The stress in our house is at it's max and I just don't know what to do anymore.

Anyone else out there in the same boat or can offer some advice?


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I feel your pain. You're pitted between a hard spot and a rock, with a teen who is getting different messages from you and her biological mom. You can't force her to talk to you, she has to trust you enough to open up to you. Right now, it sounds like she's totally confused. Be her rock of Gibraltar, be consistent with her, and continue to be the parent.

My former troublesome teen will turn 30 this week, the oldest of my three kids. I see the terrific person he is now, but still remember what a "holy terror" he was in high school.

I always held the position that, if you treat the teen as a responsible, accountable person, he or she will behave as one. Because we parents are dealing with a ticking, hormonal time bomb on our hands and all the associated crazy behavior, it's really hard to remember that the kid is a young adult learning to fly solo. That's part of the "angry youth" in teens. You can't force a kid to talk to you, but you can learn to encourage communication.

My dad always said that there is a "key" to everything, including people. Once you find that key, all things fall into place. With my son, it was finding out what he was most passionate about, which happened to be his artwork, writings and skateboarding. Relating his interests to daily life was the key into his head. Once he found out that good ol' mom used to be a "skater," a poster artist and the editor of my high school newspaper, we found common ground he could relate to. Sure, we still had the battle of the wills, but we found a way to break through the communication barriers.

The other challenge was to gain his trust in the solidity of my word. While I was not a parent who went about trying to convince the world that he was a perfect kid, I was the one who let him know in no uncertain terms that I was true to my word. I told him to not even bother to call if he got picked up by the police for violating curfew, for example, as I would let him simmer in the police station. He did test me, too, only once (the police thought it was hilarious that I refused to go pick him up until morning). He tested me on other issues, as well, much to his chagrin. It's a tough way to learn about consequences for behavior, and his teen years weren't easy for anyone in our household. Yet, he served on the jury in our local teen court and sure had a lot to say to his peers about going against parental authority (cracked me up!).

What he also learned was that he could rely on me to be consistent. Kids need that from authority figures just as much as from their own peers, and it builds trust. When your teen starts seeking your opinion and advice, you know you've overcome a huge communication hurdle. My son had a hard time accepting the rules of the house, but you should have heard him lecture his kid sister when it was "her turn."

My son is now a published writer of books in IT, an artist with a local following, and is developing a passion for cooking. When we celebrate his birthday this weekend, I know I'll be seeing not just the 1 1/2 year old who asked which planet in the night sky was his, but the terrible teen who made my life miserable and still turned out to be one incredible human being.

Find that key to your stepdaughter. I'll bet she really doesn't know who to trust.

January 5, 2009 - 9:04pm
EmpowHER Guest


Our teen is 18 and has an issue with respect with leads to the communication issues. My stepdaughter and has lived with us for 9 years and has been taught by her mother that she is equal to everyone around her (including her dad & I) and we don't agree with it at all. Her mom is her buddy and we are trying to be the parents. I know this opens up a bigger can of worms but we just don't know how to reach out to her anymore. If we try to start a conversation with her it's like pulling teeth just to get her to say or share anything that is going on in her world. I wish I knew what the underlying problem was (we couldn't get it out of her when we were going to a counselor either). I know she is angry just don't know why or at who - she won't talk to us about it.

If we don't make the effort to talk to her then she feels like we don't care. So we are damned if we do and damned if we don't. This of course effects are other children because if older sis can act that way then so can they.

She will be moving out soon but until then not sure how to handle the situation without going crazy. Thanks for responding to my post and providing the websites. How do you deal with someone who doesn't want to talk to you & they live in your home???

January 5, 2009 - 6:35pm

Hey, Anon,

My sister knows well the battleground of a household where a relationship with a teenager is difficult. She has four kids, the oldest of which is 20. From age 15 to about 19, that daughter was a pill. She fought with her stepfather, picked fights with her siblings, had boyfriend issues and some trouble in school. Everything seemed in contention, always. There seemed to never be a quiet day or a peaceful conversation.

One Christmas in the middle of that time, my mom gave my sister a plaque that said "Talking to a Teenager is like Nailing Jello to a Tree." I think my sister laughed so hard she cried.

Remember that it does pass. Like Virginia said, their job right now is to grow up, and separate from you. This is what they're doing -- as well as testing, testing, testing. Parents set the limits and children test them.

This page has links to several pages that are entirely about parent-teen conversations. Maybe something here will help you through this phase:


Please let us know more about what's going on so we can see if we can help. So glad you wrote. Hang in there!

January 5, 2009 - 10:14am

I agree with miscortes that it would help to have more information about the type of communication issues your are having with your teen. I am a mother of two and every waking day I have to come up with new strategies to reach out to their world. "Remember when you were a teen?" is the question I ask myself a lot. I look back in time and try to find similar attitudes and responses I used to come up with. One thing I remember is that at that age I thought I knew everything and my parents did not. Sure enough, teens today are not different. They know EVERYTHING! But what many parents truly do not know is that the teenager brain is undergoing very radical chemical changes during this stage in their life. PBS had a great program on this and here is a link you may find fascinating to read.

Another thing I have learned just in the past few months is to relate to my kids not at the level of parent-child with a top down authority at all times, but to think of them beyond the physical bodies. I believe in a soul and I also know that souls are ageless. So, eventhough this physical body in front of me is my 15 year old daughter, she is also an ageless soul and we have agreed to talk at that level once in a while. She enjoys that option when it is appropriate.

Being a mom, I find it more challenging to relate to my son who is younger and totally different in his approach to life. However, he is not as complex on his demands, so a simple conversation with very clear directives (and NO DRAMA!) works with him. Not easy task, as I try to dramatize too much...it is part of my learning too.

Here is a link to a great site I use as resource


January 3, 2009 - 12:02am
EmpowHER Guest

Hi Anonymous,

We will certainly be glad to try and help you with your communication problem with your teenager. Can you give us a little more information? What seems to be the issue with the communication? What is the underlying problem that is causing the anger or frustration?

Rest assured we are here for you and will help in anyway we can.

January 2, 2009 - 3:31pm
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