I Can’t Talk to My Parents

Medically Reviewed by John M Goldenring, MD, JD, MPH
From the WebMD Archives

Ever feel like no matter what you say, or how you say it, your parents never really listen to you? Maybe they treat you like a child. Or, perhaps they act like they're listening and even look you in the eyes, but really don't "hear" anything you say. And if they do hear you, they always disagree, right? Sometimes you feel like you just can't talk to your parents.

It's OK! You are normal. During the teen years, the connections and interactions with parents often become strained. As you become more independent, it's normal to develop and discuss your own ideas and theories about life -- even if you don't fully believe everything you're saying at the time.

Still, when teens talk, parents often feel threatened. Sometimes they have a hard time letting their kids go. They may long for the days when you were young and dependent on them, and didn't question their ideas. Sure, it's exasperating, but you can get through it.

Parents Are Human, Too

In an ideal situation, a home is a "testing ground" -- a safe place where teens can voice their ideas and opinions, hear how they sound, and parents can objectively discuss these thoughts with them. This helps you fine-tune what you really believe. You get to lean on the wisdom that moms and dads can give from their years of living on the planet Earth.

But, wait. Who said life is ideal? Your parents are only human -- just like you! They will slip up, say things they don't mean, be critical, and have confusing emotions, just like you. Parents may also be offended when their views are challenged, especially if you catch them at a bad time (like when they are exhausted). Sure, you can feel upset with them. But keep in mind that they are your parents. They are there for you in good times and bad.

Adolescence is a period of great change for teens. But moms and dads also undergo major adjustments as they "cut the apron strings" and allow you to become independent. While you need your parents to listen to your new ideas on life, parents also have needs. They need to feel confident that you can be trusted, and will be safe without their constant guidance.

How to Talk to Parents

With a little tolerance and persistence, you can get your parents to listen to you and at least consider your point of view. Here are a few guidelines that might help when you talk to your parents:

  • Get your thoughts together. Before you talk to your parents, jot down some concerns and/or problems that you have with your normal communication. You'll feel more prepared when your thoughts are in order. (You can scratch through thoughts that may be hurtful or disrespectful. It's probably best not to bring these up just yet.)
  • Plan a time to talk to your parents. Schedule a time with no distractions so you can focus on your issues. Avoid talking before bedtime or dinnertime, or right after your parents get home from work. Make sure you and your parents are rested and not hungry. If you have siblings, ask that they leave so you can be alone with your parents. You don't need brothers and sisters chiming in with their own thoughts.
  • Don't throw dirt! When you do talk to your parents, speak about the here and now. Avoid bringing up what they said the last time you asked, or how they ignored you when you discussed this previously. Start fresh, with no grudges. Make sure they agree to the same rules.
  • Keep it all about "you." When you talk to your parents, avoid telling them what your best friend's parents allow or what they let your sister or brother do several years ago. Avoid threatening them, and keep the talk on a personal, caring level.
  • Be sensible and even-tempered. Suggest to your parents that you explain your concerns or needs first. Then ask if they can give their reaction without being critical or emotional.
  • Keep your composure. Be cool. State your side logically, without throwing darts.
  • Try not to be defensive. That's when parents' moods often turn sour! Stay objective and logical. Deal with facts.
  • Stand tall. By attempting to talk to your parents openly -- and without emotional outbursts -- you are showing them you are adult enough to be responsible for your actions.
  • Ask for feedback. Let your parents know that what they say is important to you. Tell them you want to open up to them because you have confidence in them. They will be impressed you are going to them instead of one of your peers.
  • Get a third party to mediate. If talking to your parents is simply impossible (and only you can judge that), perhaps a mediator might help. A mediator is a third party who helps people talk with each other and make compromises. A good mediator might be a mutual family friend, a relative, a trusted teacher/counselor at your school, or a neighbor you know well. In some situations, teens may stand a better chance of getting their parents to listen when there is another trusted adult in the room.

If all else fails, remember to stay strong and positive. Often in life, we must do things that do not make us happy. But many times, these things turn out for the best. You will be on your own soon enough, and can make your own decisions then. Disagreements with parents can be frustrating because you love them and do not want to hurt them. At the same time, you feel the need to be yourself.

Be patient and persistent. In time, it's likely that you and your parents will relate to each other as interdependentadults, working through your problems together. Keep in mind this quote from author Mark Twain:

"When I was 14, my father was so ignorant, I could hardly stand to have him around. When I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in just seven years!"

WebMD Feature


SOURCES: Atlantic Health System, TeenHealth FX web site: "Relationships: Dating, Family & Friends." TeensHealth web site: "Talking to Your Parents -- or Older Adults."

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