How to Talk to Shy Teens

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This week on Homeschool Highschool Podcast: How to Talk to Shy Teens.

How to Talk to Shy Teens

How to Talk to Shy Teens

We had a request to talk about how to talk with and motivate shy teens. We parents who have shy teens can sometimes feel perplexed when trying to figure out how to have conversations with teens who are naturally shy. This can be an issue if we parents are shy, also, so unnecessary chatting is avoided. On the other hand, if we parents have more outgoing personalities, our shy teens may feel confusing to us!

Therefore, it is a good idea to have a conversation today about how to talk to shy teens!

First off, let’s talk about what makes shy teens shy

Of course, there’s not ONE cause of shyness. (Let me make clear that shyness is not a “problem”, so using the term “cause” in regards to shyness can be a problem. We do not see shyness as a problem, but rather, a personality style. And all personalities are gifts from God.)

Some shy teens have a low need for talking

There are several kinds of teens who have a low need for talking:

  • These teens often have rich and satisfying conversations within their own minds, so they do not need as much talking out loud as others people might.
  • OR they might be natural listeners and really enjoy hearing what people have to say.
  • Some of these teens are natural observers, they like to watch and process what is going on around them but have little need to comment.

All of these aspects of a high schooler’s temperament or personality are good and beautiful. Everyone is unique and that is as it should be. Unfortunately, in our western culture, quieter people are sometimes judged as being faulty- as if shyness is a problem. It is not.

Biology can affect whether a teen is shy

Some teens are biologically wired to be more sensitive to environmental stimuli. Therefore, they need more quiet times.

Other teens may be biologically wired to process information more slowly, so they need more time to observe and think about what is happening before they respond.

Some teens’ bodies may be more prone to producing more stress hormones than is useful or comfortable. Stress hormones, such as adrenaline or cortisol, are helpful for times of danger. However, adolescents going through puberty or high-stress times (like covid or SAT prep or many other pressures that teens face) may be carrying higher levels of these hormones than is useful. Thus, they experience feeling anxiety.

Developmental process can affect how shy a teen feels

Some teens feel much more anxious due to their stage of development (homeschool high schoolers taking Human Development course will know about this). Adolescents often experience a thing called “the imaginary audience”. When they are going through this phase, they feel like everything they are doing is being watched and scrutinized (whether anyone is actually watching and scrutinizing or not). This is not paranoia, it’s just a developmental phase. But it can cause anxiety and shut down. This can look like shyness in some teens.

Emotional struggles can make a teen feel shy or be exacerbated by shyness

An example of an emotional struggle is what the diagnostic manuals call “selective mutism”. With selective mutism, sometime words can be expressed by a teen and other times it feels like the words get stuck and will not come out of their mouths. When teens experience this difficulty, it is time to invite them to work with a counselor. It is treatable.

One thing that we parents need to stress to our teens is that it is not wrong to be shy!

One thing that we parents need to stress to our teens is that it is not wrong to be shy!

They should not be ashamed of themselves. Also, we parents must be careful never to shame our teens for their shyness.

Instead, we can give then tools so that when it is not convenient to act shyly, they can put on skills that help them feel more successful!

With that in mind, how can you communicate with your shy teen?

Remember that shy teens are more quiet and listening oriented.

Also, they probably need less conversation in order to feel connected to you. Sometimes, just sitting in silence with them is good connection:

  • Do a puzzle
  • Take a walk
  • Watch a television show
  • Build a birdhouse
  • Bake something together
  • Run errands together

Just spend time with them.

Then if they initiate some conversation, join with them at their pace.

  • This often means that you pause for a second before answering. Then speak at a slower pace than you might naturally speak.
  • This gives them time to listen and process at their own pace.
  • Be sure not to start fixing them!
  • You will find a rhythm for talking with them…a synchrony that feels good to you both.

What are some tools you can use to motivate shy teens?

Remember, shy adolescents are often in that “imaginary audience” phase of life. Therefore, they feel hesitant to start big projects or things they need to do for co-op or other things that are intimidating. This causes them to feel overwhelmed because they imagine they are working in front of a critical audience.

You can help by:

  • When they are not in the middle of trying to start a project (at a relaxed time), start building their self-confidence.

    • In a low-key way, compliment them on something they did well, or a kindness they performed. Try this on a daily basis.
    • Teens usually try to roll their eyes or shrug their shoulders at compliments. That is okay. You do not have to see them buy in on the compliments. The affirmations are helping even when teens do not show it.
    • Compliments are one way to help teens build a growth mindset.
  • Give them non-verbal tools for group situations.

    • In a low-key time (not right before a stressful event), teach them the “magic non-verbals”. Have them stand with their:
      • Shoulders back a little
      • Chin up a little
      • A Mona Lisa smile on their lips
    • These magic non-verbals are invitational- they give people the message that it is okay to talk to your teen. Generally someone will!
  • Teach them “facilitator skills”.
    • With facilitator skills, shy teens look for someone for them to help feel included.
      • In making someone else feel better, your teen will feel better. (One of the best cures for social anxiety is doing good deeds.)
      • When they go to a group setting, look around the room.
      • Find a person is on the fringe of the room and is all alone.
      • Walk up, use the magic non-verbals and say, “Hi”.
  • Help them learn how to be in a group conversation.

  • When your shy teen is standing in an informal group that is busy chatting, help them know that it is okay to just listen.
    • Tell them to:
      • Stand at the edge of the group.
      • Look at the speaker and occasionally not their head
      • Keep the magic non-verbals on!
    • The folks in the group feel you accept them and feel like you were part of the group!
  • Answer questions PLUS a little bit

    • If someone asks your shy teen a question, have them answer and add a little bit.
      • For instance,  if someone at homeschool co-op asks if they finished their homework they could answer:
      • “Yes. How about you?”
      • Yes, but it was SO hard!”
    • This helps the conversation to keep going!
  • When you want your teen to do something around the house, ask instead of command

  • For instance:
    • “Could you help me build this birdhouse?”
    • “Would you help me get these chores done?”
  • Do volunteer work

  • This helps improve the part of shyness that is related to social anxiety
  • Memorize Scripture, quotes or poetry

    • Then have them recite to you. This builds their confidence because they hear their own voices speaking and helps them feel more motivated.
  • Have them do some personality tests

    • Help your shy teens get to know themselves. This builds confidence and helps them find their motivations.
    • There are links to a bunch of personality tests in this freebie from Vicki Tillman Coaching.
    • Discuss the results together.

Join Vicki for encouragement for talking to shy teens! And check out this episode on Homeschooling a Strong Willed Teen (another topic suggested by our 7th Sisters)!


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