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5 Things to Know When Your Teen Shuts Down

Have you tried to reach out and talk to you teen, but all you get in return is the silent treatment. What do you do when your teen shuts down? How do you get your teen help to open up again? In this article, I’ll explain why teens shut down, and how parents can help them reengage by creating a safe and welcoming environment at home.

Your Teen Might Be Trying to Tell You Something

It seems counter-intuitive, but your teen’s silence is really a cry for help. Perhaps something has happened in his life that affects him deeply, but he can’t bring himself to talk about, or he doesn’t know how to talk about his problem. Your teen may be pushing you away, but don’t assume he needs space or doesn’t want to engage.  Find out what’s motivating the silence, so your teen doesn’t have to deal with his problems alone.

There’s A Lot Going On Under the Surface

Teens are dealing with a lot of personal change, social pressure, and cultural upheaval, so naturally there’s emotional turmoil. On top of that, your teen may or may not be aware of all that’s bubbling under the surface. When your teen shuts down, it’s a sure sign that there’s a silent struggle going on inside. But teens don’t have deep life experiences to help them understand what’s happening. So they need adults to help them figure out ways to communicate and break through their silent struggles.

You can help your teen by communicating that you are available to listen. Try taking your teen out to eat, walking together, spending time together––whatever it takes to create an environment where your teen feels comfortable to open up.

Your Teen Still Wants to Be Loved (Even If They Don’t Show It)

Your teen might be giving you non-verbal signals to “go away,” but don’t let that fool you! Your teen needs your love now more than ever. Tell them that you love them, with words and with actions. Learn to show your love in multiple ways—you might have to get creative. No matter how hard they try to push you away, don’t withdraw your affection when they are getting in trouble or isolating themselves. Let your teen know that there is nothing he can do to make you love him more or less. 

Reengaging With You (or the World) Might Seem Really Hard for Your Teen

It’s easy for parents to give teens advice, or simply tell teens to talk more, but teens who are used to being closed off will find even this simple advice overwhelming. Many teens are not learning how to express themselves because so much of their communication is online and not face to face. It will be frustrating to watch your teen struggle to reconnect, but remember to give him lots of grace. Show your love for your teen by making time to listen and spend time together. Don’t allow the chasm between you to grow wider.

Don’t Give up on Your Teen

Even during this time of silence, try to maintain a long-term perspective, by remembering that there is hope beyond this “shut down” season. Make it a priority to spend time with your teen, even if it means cancelling some of your own commitments. Don’t give up on your teen, if your first few attempts don’t work out. Be creative and try a new approach. Ultimately, if your teen needs more help, reach out to a counsellor, coach, pastor, or youth leader to start the conversation.

How can you become a “safe place” for your teen?

You may not like your teens behavior, but you need to show your teen love and respect. You don’t need to “fix” all their problems right away. Instead listen without shaming, judging, or constantly correcting your teen. Make yourself available to talk. Listen when they speak and avoid lecturing your teen when he says things you disagree with. Instead, ask questions, engage in conversation, and stay interested in your teen.


Hey moms and dads … Silence isn’t always golden. Quietness sometimes speaks louder than a teen who screams to get something they want. And sometimes the quiet is peaceful, but may just be the calm before the storm. When your teen shuts down, they may do so because they don’t know what to say, how to express their feelings, or are ashamed that they don’t know how to fix something in their life. They might just be embarrassed. So don’t ignore the silence of your teen. Some of your greatest communications can be made without words. Your silent presence in their silence can speak louder than any words could ever speak. So don’t disengage when you don’t get a response. Instead, connect so they will eventually feel comfortable the environment is safe, and feel they will be heard loud and clear.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.