Remember when you couldn’t wait for your little guy to say his first words? You practiced with him over and over again—mama! Ma-ma! (and of course, he said “daddy” first. Ha!)
Then, in the whirlwind of the preschool and elementary years, you wondered if your head might explode when he wouldn’t stop talking about anything and everything on his mind—dinosaurs! Mario! Bugs! Lego! Minecraft! Star Wars! Soccer! Pokemon! Fortnite!
But suddenly, your little boy is now a teenager, and you’re lucky to get a grunt when you ask, “How was your day?”
Why do teenagers stop talking?
When your pre-teen or teen boy stops talking, it can make you uneasy
What happened to your chatty kid? What’s going on in his mind and heart?
You miss him, and you feel lost, wondering, “How do I get him to open up to me?”
Even more concerning, your interactions may feel negative, leading to daily bickering and full-out fights.
First, you should know that this is normal adolescent behavior. Know that pulling away from parents is a normal and necessary developmental stage of puberty. The teen brain is developing at a rapid rate, which can make it difficult for them to understand and control their emotions. Their communication skills are not strong, and they might not know how to talk about their feelings. They may be going through an awkward stage and feel embarrassed and unsure about what they are experiencing.
This is true of all teenagers, but teen boys often clam up more than their female counterparts (science says this is because communication skills develop later in males.) And as much as your son would hate to admit it, he still needs you to stay connected and involved in his life.
He needs you to remain available. And he needs you to get him talking. Teens today are under a lot of stress, and acknowledging and developing coping mechanisms to manage it is one of the most effective ways we can raise productive adults.
While teens need their own space, parents need to do some work on their end to navigate this new relationship with their teen son. So, while it may feel like your teen is rejecting you, parents need to focus on bridging the gap.
While I don’t have all the answers when it comes to getting teenage boys to connect and open up, here are some things that have helped me to build relationship and communication with my twin sons during these challenging teenage years
Eight ways to get your teen son to open up
1. Be the pursuer
As parents, we have to be the initiators when it comes to relationships with our kids. Sometimes, this is exhausting, especially when we try and try and try to connect with our sons and all we get is crickets in return.
It can be so easy to give into the frustration and say, “That’s it. I’m done. If he wants me, he can come find me,” or “He’ll open up when he’s ready.” But I’ve found that teen boys need their parents to help show them the way.
They often don’t know how to start hard conversations, don’t have the words to talk about their inner lives or emotions, and find comfort and safety in avoidance. (You may also like to read: These Simple Questions Helped Me Stop Reacting to My Son’s Big Emotions)
There’s a delicate dance between giving our teens space to figure out who they are becoming in adolescence and pursuing relationships with them, but as their mom, I’m committed to being the pursuer and initiator when it comes to communication and relationships.
This means I go into their room to hang out instead of waiting for them to come to me. I continuously invite them places although they often say no. I go out of my way to meet them where they are at whenever possible.
Don’t give up.
2. Ask him to teach you something
Common interests can go by the wayside during the years of raising teen boys, especially for moms. Our kids are pursuing their interests, hobbies, and dreams that may be completely foreign to us.
My teen son loves anime, transformers, and drawing on his iPad. I love seeing his work, but I honestly know nothing about the topics he loves to draw.
But when I started an illustration project myself, I found a unique way to build a connection with him. He was an expert in using ProCreate, an iPad drawing program, so he lit up when I asked him for lessons in using the program.
He loved being my teacher and showing me all the tips and tricks he has learned over the last few years. Our lessons only lasted a few sessions before I got the hang of the program, but over the next few months, he enjoyed bragging to his teachers and acquaintances that he had taught his mom something.
I loved bragging about him, too. He was a great teacher.
As our teens grow up, they are becoming experts in topics, technology, and interests that we know nothing about. We have so much to learn from them, and asking them to become our teachers can build a special connection and open new doors of communication.
3. Car rides + food equals heart
Communication with our teen boys can be challenging on the best days but even more complex when we’re butting heads. This is when our boys need us the most, though.
One day after a big blow-up, all I wanted to do was send my son to his room and not talk to him for a week. But more than separation, I wanted us to have a connection and resolution.
My solution: “Let’s go for a ride.”
When I mentioned burgers and shakes, he finally got in the car. Our ride was silent for the first few miles, but slowly, as we sat side by side, we could discuss our issues instead of yelling.
The food helped, too (food always helps), and by the time we drove home from Sonic, we had come to a new understanding of what was happening in our mother-son relationship and had a practical plan for how to move forward.
Car rides + food is an excellent formula for finding the way to your son’s heart.
4. Watch a show together
One of my favorite ways to build connection with my teen boys is to watch a show with them. My teenage twins are the oldest in our family, so watching a more “grown-up” show with them has helped them feel like they are now young adults and not just “one of the kids.”
We’ve picked series like Cobra Kai, The Good Place, and Smallville and have used the storylines to build anticipation (only one episode per day—no watching ahead!), have meaningful conversations about life and relationships, laugh together, and build inside jokes (TV memes anyone?).
Sometimes we don’t talk at all throughout an episode, but when they ask the next day, “Can we watch our show together?” it makes my heart sing.
5. Utilize texting
Getting your teen son to open up to you doesn’t mean it has to be in one specific way.
It’s a stereotype that teens are glued to their phones, but a great way to build a connection with your teenage son is to communicate through texting (and not just “Come do your chores” or “It’s time for dinner.”)
Sometimes, they don’t want face-to-face or even a side-by-side car conversation. But texting can be a way to get to the heart of an issue without the awkwardness of traditional communication. We also find that we can start a conversation by text and then move it to a talk later. This gives teens an opportunity to think about something instead of barraging them out of nowhere.
A simple text like “I noticed you seemed bummed out after your practice today. Anything on your mind?” can go a long way to open communication doors.
6. Use humor to your advantage
Finding ways to laugh together can be a great connection point during the rocky teenage years.
My husband just created an Instagram message thread for my twins and us to share funny reels and memes. He named it “Laugh Yo Ass Off,” which made our sons crack a smile.
My husband and I have filled the thread with cat videos, potty humor, and sports fails. But in the last few days, our boys have started adding their own reels to the thread, and I just love laughing with them.
Memes and reels are a whole love language. Teen boy humor may be a little off-color, but it’s a great way just to let loose, laugh and find connection.
7. Don’t downplay what he loves
Recently, I was chatting with another mom at Men’s Warehouse when we were both picking up dress clothes for the homecoming dance for our sons. With a roll of her eyes, she mentioned that he was taking his “little girlfriend” to the dance.
I inwardly cringed, remembering how my parents downplayed and dismissed my teenage crushes and relationships. I never wanted to open up to them about anything like that. My sons aren’t dating anyone right now, but I’ve committed not to tease or downplay the special relationships they form.
I want to hear about who they care for and the tricky relationships they are navigating (romantic or otherwise). Respecting these relationships as meaningful and serious (to them!) is a foundational step in opening doors of communication and cementing a solid relationship for years to come. (You may also like to read 9 things to do in the teen years for a solid relationship with your grown son)
I also try to respect and support their clubs (D&D anyone?), interests (remember the anime and transformers?), activities, and extra curriculars—even if I don’t understand or “get it” all the time.
8. Seek support
Raising teen boys is hard, and finding ways to communicate and connect can sometimes feel like we are flailing in the middle of the ocean without a life preserver. Sometimes we just need a fresh perspective on how to look at your relationship differently or new tools to get your teen son to open up to you.
But if you are struggling in your relationship with your teenage son, it doesn’t mean you are failing as a parent. It may just mean that you need more support during this season.
Consider joining a support group online or in person. Seek out counselors or therapists for your teen and/or yourself. Follow social media accounts that are encouraging during this season.
Find books on teen boys that validate and encourage. Two that I highly recommend are Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson and Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brene Brown.
Raising teen sons is essential–but challenging–work.
You’re not alone if you struggle to emotionally connect or communicate with your teenage son. It can be tough, and it’s a long game towards growth and maturity—for them and for us. But when you get your teenage son to open up to you? It’s the best.
Keep pursuing love and connection because relationships with our precious sons are worth it.