More than anything else, boys and girls are individuals. There is no “one size fits all” approach to dealing with teens. We have found, though, that some things seem to work better when we help families communicate with teen boys.

Boys and girls, like adults, have the same five basic feelings: anger, sadness, fear, happiness and embarrassment. What’s different sometimes is how teen boys and girls handle and express these feelings.

Many boys are a little slower to mature emotionally than girls. This doesn’t mean that boys aren’t as sensitive or don’t feel things as deeply as girls. In fact, boys sometimes get overwhelmed more easily by strong feelings. When boys get overwhelmed, they’re more likely to shut down or act like they don’t care than, say, get into a screaming fight with parents.

If a boy is going to let his feelings out, he may express anger. At times it can seem easier or more acceptable to a teen boy to be angry than to admit feeling sad or scared. Adults have to dig a bit to find out what the anger is really about.

We sometimes hear from families that their teen boy “never comes out of his room”, or is so involved outside the house that it’s hard to know what is going on with him. Like girls, when boys become teens their friends and outside interests become incredibly important. It can be frustrating when a teen mentions that he “had a really good talk with Coach” about something, even though it seems he never talks at home any more. It’s important for teens to feel that they aren’t as dependent on parents and family as they used to be. Boys often try to do this by keeping difficult feelings quiet, or sharing with other people.

Here are some tips to help your teen boy open up a little about what’s going on:

Keep it low-key

Many boys are less comfortable with “intense” conversations than girls are. Talking face-to-face can feel too personal or confrontational, and this can make a boy clam up pretty quickly. Try doing an activity together that lets you talk side-by-side (driving, working on something together) so that you aren’t facing each other but can still talk easily.

Do something active

Boys often process thoughts and feelings more easily if they can move while they talk. Some boys who have a hard time concentrating in school find it helps to pace while reading, for example, or squeeze a stress ball during class. In the same way, it can help to give a teen boy something physical to do while talking. Shooting baskets, raking leaves, even doing the dishes together can help words flow.

Keep it short

Boys often don’t have the energy for long, drawn-out emotional scenes. One of the benefits of talking in the car is that, unless you’re on a long car trip, your teen boy knows the conversation won’t last too long. Just knowing this might help him feel comfortable enough to open up.

Pick your battles

Let your teen know that you understand his need for privacy about some things, but that you will keep asking about important stuff. “It’s OK for you not to tell me everything about your friends, but you always have to tell me where you’re going and when you’ll be home”.

Be creative

Sometimes, any conversation can feel uncomfortable and threatening to teens. Leaving notes, writing letters, or even recording messages between you can help open lines of communication. Let your teen know that you think anything he has to share is important. And as always, really listen when your teen does decide to talk.

Don’t give up

Most of all, keep trying! Even if he sometimes acts like he’s allergic to you, your teen desperately wants to know that you are there to listen and help when he needs you.

Remember, teens may not always be ready to talk, but they always need someone who is ready to listen.