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Why Your Teen Might Not Talk to You (Until It’s Too Late)

kitchenTeen suicide is way more common than you’d think.  1 in 12 teenagers have attempted suicide, according to a 2012 report.  And the idea that people who talk about killing themselves are not actually going to try has long been proven to be a fallacy.  If someone is talking about it, then they’re thinking about it, and thinking about it is a step toward doing it.

But if your teenager is talking to you about those thoughts, consider yourself lucky.  That’s an opportunity for you to get help and instill hope.

What if your teenager seems unhappy but isn’t talking to you?  You probably want to create an opportunity.

Adolescence is rough.  We all know that.  Fortunately, the vast majority of us survive it.

But try to remember what your adolescence was like.  Maybe you don’t like doing that, because it was so difficult.  If that’s the case, it could be part of why there’s distance between you and your teenager.  You might have to reconnect with yourself in order to better connect with your child.

Recall the tumult of your emotions, the pressures, the uncertainty.  There was so much to figure out, but you were supposed to seem like you already knew it.  Maybe you felt like you were supposed to actually know it.  Your parents expect you to be more responsible yet there are all sorts of decisions they won’t let you make.  You’re struggling to separate yourself from your parents; possibly you’re alienated from your friends.  There’s hormones and dating and sex and myriad unwritten rules governing social relationships.

Throw in today’s social media obsession, all the instant gratification, the online world to navigate as well as the in-person…No wonder your teenager can feel overwhelmed.

There was a great quote from Marilyn Manson (yes, that Marilyn) in the movie “Bowling For Columbine.”  Michael Moore asked what Marilyn Manson would say to the shooter, if he’d had the opportunity before the shooting happened.  Marilyn said he wouldn’t tell the kid anything, he’d just listen.  I think that’s the right starting point: non-judgmental listening.

And before you speak, consider whether you truly do understand.  You might not want to accept what you’re hearing–it’s very difficult to hear your child in pain–but if that is their experience, you need to take it in.  Denying your teenager’s emotional reality will only make him/her feel more alone.

Start from empathy, and then you can decide together what the next step should be.  It might be a diet and exercise plan, it might be self-help books, it might be becoming involved in more social activities, it might be therapy.  But making a collaborative plan with your child is the best way to respect the pain he’s in.

A strong bond with your child can act as suicide prevention.  But they also need to know that you can handle the truth, that you won’t fall apart.  Then they can trust you with their darkest thoughts and feelings, and you can help them find more light.

Teen image available from Shutterstock.

Why Your Teen Might Not Talk to You (Until It’s Too Late)

Holly Brown, LMFT

Holly Brown is a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. She has a private practice in Alameda ( ). She is also a novelist ( Her latest is HOW FAR SHE'S COME, a workplace thriller which received a starred review from Publisher's Weekly: "This provocative tale will resonate with many in the era of the #MeToo movement."

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APA Reference
Brown, H. (2014). Why Your Teen Might Not Talk to You (Until It’s Too Late). Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 May 2014
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