The silence of adolescents, 6 things to know to understand them better and help them

The silence of adolescents, 6 things to know to understand them better and help them
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With the beginning of middle school, the cheerful, lively and chatty child of the past seems to be giving way to a child that, every day, parents struggle to recognize. Long faces, dirty looks and lapidary answers gradually become almost the norm.

Conversation often languishes and mom and dad's attempts to dialogue bounce off a wall of silence, behind which the boy, between 11 and 14, tends to entrench himself.

But this attitude, which frequently displaces and worries the adult, is an indisputable alarm bell or not? In reality, silence is a phase, a 'normal' stage that is part of the growth process of the pre-adolescent, it is not always (or only) a symptom of some malaise.

This is explained by two psychotherapist psychologists, Rosanna Schiralli, author of several essays on adolescents (and one of the promoters of the Education Festival) and Matteo Lancini, author of the book 'Navigated adolescents' (Erickson).

1. Through silence, the growing child tries to distance himself from his parents and also to assert his own autonomy

“In this age group, parents should never be afraid of changes. The children experience a sort of swing between the need to still feel small, with mum and dad close and present, and that of exploring and growing - says Rosanna Schiralli. This 'back and forth' zigzag effect is part of the growth ”.


In this state of conflict, for the expert, silence fits well, which is often a way in which the child tries to distance himself from his parents but does not regulate himself because the attachment is strong. Shut up for him, therefore, is also a way to conquer his own privacy and autonomy.


Similarly, Matteo Lancini argues that through silence the pre-adolescent begins to affirm his own subjectivity (or identity) with respect to adults.


For this reason, at a certain point, "the child takes the power to determine communication, according to his times, which are no longer governed by the mother".


2. The parent should respect the time of the preteen and not force him to speak at all costs when he is silent

Generally, according to Lancini, parents think that silence always masks a discomfort but it is not: sometimes, the boy simply does not want to share his projects. In this case, “there is no way to flush it out and it's not fair to force words out. The son is no longer a child who can be embarked on saying what pleases his mother ".

In the same vein, Rosanna Schiralli adds: "when the child replies in monosyllables or mumbles, if he does not disrespect him - in this case, it is appropriate to reproach him - it is good to leave him alone".

Basically, what matters most, from Lancini's point of view, is to respect the physiological times of the child, and to show oneself available since silence is also a right, and a choice he can make.

A choice that parents often find it difficult to accept, even in the opinion of the expert: “the world of adults codes silence as a negative thing. In reality, it is fundamental for the construction of one's own identity and also for reflection ”.

3. Showing excessive concern when the child tells something or amplifying a problem usually makes them even quieter

To the classic question that, sooner or later, every parent asks himself in front of an increasingly hermetic pre-adolescent, 'what will he ever have in his head?', There are several answers.

In fact, silence is an aspect of growth, however the child's attitude is also linked to the educational approach at home and to the relationship with the adult. When the child, for example, tends not to tell the facts of his life, according to Lancini, it often depends on the anxiety that the adult manifests. “Today, if a child hides a bad grade, he is not as afraid of severe punishment as in the past but he fears that the parent gets too anxious.

For this reason, the adult should be able to listen without exaggerated reactions to what the child really says, beyond what he would prefer to hear ".

In case of any problem, it is important that the adult has the ability to tolerate it, without amplifying the question. If her son, for example, tells of a fight with a friend, and her mom makes a scene outside of school, she almost certainly won't talk to her openly anymore.

In order to avoid similar episodes, a good idea is for the parents to agree on who among them, based on their history, is the best interlocutor to deal with the different problems with their child.

4. A good way to avoid the preteen becoming silent is to find solutions to his problems together by showing a real interest in every aspect of his life.

In cases where something makes the child uncomfortable, and he talks about it at home, for example a tease at school, it is good to find together a solution that no longer creates difficulties.

A good approach, according to Lancini, is to evaluate what to do by directly involving him: 'What do you think is useful?'. Otherwise, if the parent worsens the situation with his intervention, the preteen will not say anything more.

At the basis of everything, to keep a dialogue open and help the child overcome any obstacles, it is essential that parents take an interest in every aspect of his life and not just in school.

“Communication does not start from the speaker's mouth but from the ears of the listener.

Children often hear that adults are only willing to listen on some channels, and not on others ”, explains Rosanna Schiralli.

Lancini is of the same opinion who considers it essential to pay attention to every area of ​​growth of the child, from first loves to virtual life, showing the ability to listen to him when he needs it.

5. Faced with an increasingly buttoned-up child, it is important to avoid direct questions, instead creating opportunities for sharing in which an opening is opened to invite him to dialogue

When silence becomes the rule, then it is appropriate to intervene, according to Schiralli, but not in a pressing way. It is forbidden, for example, to ask bursts of questions about the school ('What grades did you get? What about the others?').

Such behavior irritates the child and makes him more taciturn, instead ask 'how do you feel?' can help him speak.

In any case, if the silence is too much, and the suspicion that there is a problem is strong, the parent should say to the child: 'I have the impression that something is wrong, maybe I'm wrong, help me understand'.

“The verb 'to help' puts the child on a cooperative level, is very different than saying 'what's wrong with you?' that creates a wall ”, explains the psychotherapist Schiralli.

In these cases, it can be effective to propose to the child to do something together, for example eat a pizza, go for a ride or challenge a game that both of us enjoy.

On informal occasions, where there is equal intentions, according to the expert, a way is opened to talk, the 'right' moment is created to ask the child questions without him getting angry and withdrawing more.

“Communication is a dance between several protagonists, so everything also depends on the moment, sometimes irony can help, or a joke or a simple smile is enough,” says Schiralli.

Certainly, according to the psychologist, being together, sharing emotions or fatigue makes the child more tolerant towards the adult who should still enter his world with discretion and prudence.

6. Giving up talking to the child is never the right way even if it can cause frustration to the parent and not even look for a 'culprit' for his silences.

Prolonged silences and classic 'yes', 'no' aren't a walk in the park for parents, however it is never the case to give up thinking that it is better to leave the child alone because you can't tell him anything.

It is good not to give up discussion and sharing: “if at the beginning there is a good relationship, there is room for everything”, says Schiralli. Equally important, from Lancini's point of view, is to avoid the hunt for the culprit if the child does not say a word or has a problem: blaming others is useless.

“Faced with the current complexity, what counts is to commit to building a bridge between everything that forms the plot of every child's life, also seeking educational alliances between family and school”.

Updated on 17.02.2022

  • teens
  • silence of teenagers
  • what to do when the child does not speak
  • 6-14 children years
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