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Do You Want To Know How To Engage Your Distressed Teenager Who Refuses To Talk To You?

Updated: Feb 16, 2021

Most parents of teenagers can confirm that some changes do happen to their little lovelies as they transition from being young children to adolescents.

To bring it home, this is an imagery expression I often use with parents to help us understand what really is happening within our teens; because its with understanding that we can parent consciously and compassionately.

Imagine your teenager is pressure cooker; a lot is brewing in their brain and body. Everytime you create a safe space to talk, you open the vent pipe just a little bit, and this prevents them from bursting & breaking.

As a psychologist, educator, researcher and parenting teenagers expert, I am a keen proposer of talking and opening up and its importance for mental wellbeing for all of us and even more so for teenagers. A safe and secure space to vent and help prevent reaching that tipping point and mentally breaking down.

Thankfully, many parents are now accepting and adopting the idea of talking. They are allowing and educating themselves to be that safe space as they continuously realise that indeed talking, speaking up and sharing does help our teenagers half their problems and lighten the loads they carry often times.

But, What do you do when your teenager who is evidently distressed refuses to talk?

Here is question I received this question from a parent of teen.

“Have just collected my daughter from her best friend. She has been crying since she got into the car and now she is in her room crying. I have asked her what the problem is but all she did was continue to cry. Should I force her to talk or let it be?”

Right there is a question that is coming up very often; what doI do? how do I help my distressed teenager who won’t talk?

And here was my response to that parent's question; how to engage with their distressed teenager who won’t talk.

Thanks for reaching out.

I will give you 4 practical steps to help your distressed teenager who is refusing to talk to you.

Firstly, please know I understand and feel your frustration because you know just as I know that talking does help relieve the pressure within.

However, .let’s put aside the thinking that we can force anything and get positive results.We also know that forcing is a violation of someone’s safe territory.

So we will not force anything.

But if you prefer to read, read on.

The 4 steps to engaging a distressed teenager who refuses to talk involve

Noticing, Validating, Inviting, Confirming.

Listen as these steps are elaborated on this podcast.

Step 1 Of How To Engage With Your Distressed Teenager Who Refuses To Talk.


Make sure you overtly let her know you’ve noticed that she is distressed. say it out loud.

You can say sentences like these exampled here;

"I notice that you are not happy about something"

"I can see you are not happy".

Let your tone of voice be a matter of fact. This is to avoid sounding like you are ridiculing or deriding them or even questioning them which can aggravate the situation.

Step 2 How To Engage With Your Distressed Teenager Who Refuses To Talk.


Like the first time, make sure you overtly validate her feelings verbally. Let her hear you validate her.

You can say sentences like these exampled here;

“Whatever it is must be distressing”

“Whatever it is must be disappointing”

Let your tone of voice be genuine. Remember people an feel when we are not being genuine and this can only make situations worse.

This takes true empathy and acceptance that other people's feelings and experiences are real to them.

Step 3 How To Engage With Your Distressed Teenager Who Refuses To Talk.


This 3rd step in where you open yourself and make that invitation to the conversation. This is a very sensitive step because it may easily be met with rejection and we as parents and carers must be ready to take this rejection impersonally and impartially.

You can say sentences like these exampled here;

"I am available to talk when and if you are ready to share but if not that's ok I trust you can resolve in other ways."

"I am available to talk if it’s something you need me to know and If you don’t want me to know, I am sure you are well capable of resolving it yourself or find a way."

"I am always available whenever you want to chat."

At this point they may or may not choose to speak. Whichever way show them you are ok with their choice and that you are supportive, also let your tone be I am safe and available whenever and that this is not a now or never opportunity.

Step 4 How To Engage With Your Distressed Teenager Who Refuses To Talk.

Confirmation of affection and assurance.

Whichever way it goes in the 3rd step always end any encounter and engagement with your teenager with a confirmation of your affection towards them. this is not dependent on anything whether they told you, or told you off or even refused to speak altogether..

You can say sentences like these exampled here;

“I am always here for you and love you loads”

"Always love you."

Whichever genuine expression of love you wish do it here and do it now

Those Are The 4 Steps How To Engage With Your Distressed Teenager Who Refuses To Talk.

After you've done that, leave it at that.

Don’t nag.

Don’t interfere.

As parents of teens, we need trust our teenagers are humans beings. Remember human beings have a self-preservation nature and will often do what’s best for themselves even when we as parents think that is not the best.

So trust she will do the best for herself in that situation.

Do keep observing though. Hone your observation skills and( this does in no way mean you hovering around). It's keeping an eye ust to make sure this sadness doesn’t tip to something worse.

Most teenage sadness incidents like this, will resolve quickly and most often by themselves. Remember they will share some things and there are some things they will never share and we as parents of teens to accept and come to terms with that. Our job is to create A Safe And Secure Space To Vent Can Help Prevent Mental Breakdown . This safe space where they know that ca safely share can be the buffer that prevents them from being sucked into a black hole.

In the case study above where they refuse to talk, the teenager still benefits from you showing concern and this is how.

Let's evaluate these steps again as we conclude: The 4 Steps How To Engage With Your Distressed Teenager Who Refuses To Talk.

Step 1


When you notice and say it, believe it or not they say something in response even though they say it internally and within. This is them talking back to you even if you don't hear the response.

So, don't be afraid of voicing that you've noticed.

Step 2


When you validate your teenager verbally, there’s is an internal relief and as in the first instance when you noticed their distress, there is a feeling of being understood and although they may not speak this is very much welcomed.

Step 3


This 3rd step where you open yourself and invite that conversation indicates to them they are valued and respected. You are willing and making time for them.

The mere fact of knowing you hear them and are available is quite relieving even if they don't take you up on the offer.

Step 4

Confirmation of affection and assurance

In this 4t step, no matter who we are, there’s a comfort and confidence that comes with knowing they are loved.

Remember these seemingly small efforts are what relieves them of that extreme internal pressure and prevents them from dropping into the black hole of mental breakdown. Every one of these actions acts to soften the sting of whatever blow they feel they have been dealt.

Still want to glean some more information on this topic?

Contact with any additional questions.

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