Connecting with Kids Who Don’t Want to Spend Time with You

All the experts preach that you need to communicate with your teenager.

But what if they don’t want to have anything to do with you?!

I came across an article that I think may help!

Kara Powell (no relation) from Fuller Youth Institute FYI and author of Sticky Faith,  has researched this and has some great tips for parents and youth workers! I’ve added a few thoughts of my own…

Kara tells the story of Sam who hides out in his room and only comes out to eat. (–sound familiar?) He communicates on the level of a Neanderthal with one word answers. His Mom is anxious because, as she explains,  “He’d rather shut himself in his room and go online or play video games than be with her.”

Find What They Love and Share it With Them

Kara points out that Sam’s mother Nora discovered that Sam loved movies. She read up on the kind of movies that he loved and would make a point of inviting him. Talking before and after the movie became a window into his world, so she picked theaters that were far away from home.

Build on the Good Times

Nora was very wise in her approach. If a student loves sports, music, eating, or camping this is the place to start getting communication happening. During this time I find these tips helpful:

  • Don’t interrogate –don’t go digging for personal details, let them share them when they are ready
  • Don’t criticize or preach –some of their values will come out and they will differ from yours
  • Don’t expect instant results –if they have shut you out for a long time be happy that you are spending some time together even if the conversation revolves around the technical quality of the movie or the taste of the food.
  • Give them space afterward –the temptation is to follow them back into their room after the activity is done. Be thankful that the silence is broken temporarily but they will go back to their behavior when you are done.

Keep it Up

It’s easy to have a few successes and think that things are going to be okay. Instead, think of these activities as a regular thing that you will keep doing. As their interests change your time together will have to take on a different shape as well.

The three years from 15 to 18 are critical for developing and maintaining a relationship that will last into the college years. Investing in consistent times together will keep lines of communication open in a time when teens don’t know if they want to push you away or hold you close.

What Works For You

These were just a few ideas of Kara’s and my own. What do you find works for you to get a teen to open up during this stage of life?

PS. If you found this helpful you may also like

Shut Out? How to Help Your Teen Open Up.

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Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email


  1. “Youth need a voice.” How else can they learn to express themselves. The research on ‘reasoning morally’ shows clearly that the only way to get better at it…is to do more of it. It is important to ask a question and then wait patiently for an answer. Sometimes, just going in the room and sitting down quietly will get the youth (son, daughter) to ask a question. Showing that you are interested in them and that you love them enough to listen will often be enough. I went on the street to interview youth and found out all kinds of information from them because I would simply ask a question and then listen intently. Often, I would raise a follow-up question and I would get more information. Youth today are becoming more isolated with technology and I believe we have a responsibility to help them. Read: “What Would It Take For Youth To Come To Church” to get more details on these interviews with youth. Wayne Townsend

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