by Bec Cavalôt

How can I get my shutdown teen to open up?

Are you losing your teenage son to Snapchat? Do you feel lucky if your questions get a response – even if it is a grunt or an eye roll? Does it seem like the more you try to get your teen to talk, the less he says?

We all want our teenage and pre-teen boys to open up more. And it isn’t just about missing the chats and cuddles of the earlier years. Research shows that a strong emotional connection between parents and teens can help prevent some pretty scary stuff, including anxiety, depression and physically and psychologically risky behaviours.

If you’re struggling to connect with your teen or pre-teen, here are a few ways you can help your shutdown son open up. 

Let him open up after dark

In a recent Washington Post article, family psychologist Lisa Damour talked about the importance of allowing your son to set the schedule for talk, even if it is past your (and his) bedtime. Damour explains that these nocturnal D&Ms allow teenagers to seek connection while also maintaining their prized independence. They know you’re tired so you’re likely to speak less, listen more and be more responsive to them controlling when to end the conversation. Because you just want to go to sleep.

Of course, midnight chats every night won’t work for most families. But if your son is often hovering by the door when you’re about to go to bed, try to turn towards him rather than turning in. 

Embrace the power of silence

Question less. Listen more. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But making space for your son to talk by being quiet is one of the hardest things to do. You want to solve, fix and make things better. But the more you push your opinions and advice, the more he’ll pull away.

Take a deep breath and let the silence sit between you. And if you truly think he’s looking for solutions, don’t assume – ask. If he says he just wants you to listen, respect his wishes and unless he shares something that could put him or others in danger, bite your tongue. 

Create environments that encourage connection

I’ve quickly learned that bombarding my son with questions as soon as he walks in from school or grilling him over dinner isn’t conducive to meaningful connection. Nothing makes him clam up more than pressing him to talk.

If you’re having the same experience, try making space for your son to open up on his own terms. Teenagers are often more inclined to share when direct eye contact isn’t part of the deal: in the car, on a walk, or after dark. Find ways to be in proximity where you’re both potentially available to chat, without pushing it. For instance, when you’re cooking dinner and he’s emptying the dishwasher or doing homework at the kitchen bench. And try to stay off your computer or phone – if you’re glued to a screen, it’s much more difficult for him to interrupt you when he’s ready to interact.

It’s all about giving your son a little control, and with it, a little more comfort. Sometimes there might be a brief moment of connection, or even a meaningful conversation. And that’s wonderful. Sometimes he’ll retreat to his bedroom or phone. And that’s normal. Hang in there. Every time you offer your son the opportunity to connect, even if he doesn’t take you up on it, he learns that he’s loved and supported. And when he plonks himself next to you on the couch and asks if you’ve got time to talk? That’s priceless.


 Brought to you by Brighton Grammar School

Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer and mum of two boys. You can find her at This article is about


  • image description

    Why you shouldn’t stop reading to your son

    By Bec Cavalôt

  • image description

    5 hug-free ways to show love to your teen

    By Bec Cavalôt

  • image description

    What’s going on in your teenager’s brain?

    By Bec Cavalôt