Clinically reviewed by Dr. Chris Mosunic, PhD, RD, CDCES, MBA

How to check in on your teen’s mental health in a way that doesn’t annoy them

By Kells McPhillips

If there’s a teen under your roof, you’ve probably heard countless variations of the phrase, “You’re annoying me!” When it comes to asking young adults about their mental health and well-being, some approaches may elicit irritation more quickly than others, says clinical social worker Jami Dumler, LCSW, who works with Thriveworks in Pennsylvania. When you sit down to have a chat with your teen, it’s critical to have a strategy and intention.

“Teens often feel ‘annoyed’ by their parents based on timing and approach,” says Dumler. “Approaches that involve lecturing, ‘talking down’ to, or ‘should’ language will often lead to those infamous teen eye rolls and annoyed facial expressions as well as tuning out or giving a negative response.”

Choosing the proper setting for your talk with a teenager will likely determine how well the conversation goes. So, below, Dumler offers a step-by-step approach to asking a teenager: “How are you doing?” Plus, a few practices to avoid so you don’t end up hearing that all-too-common phrase: “Stop being so annoying!”

Your 6-step guide for asking a teen about their mental health in a non-annoying way

1. Pick the right time and setting carefully

“Trying to approach a teen when they're sending clear body language or verbal cues that they don't want to talk, when they're locked in on their phone or other activities, in rushed moments, or when others are present are all timing mistakes commonly resulting in an annoyed teen,” says Dumler. Instead of approaching them in these moments, look out for a window when they’re not distracted and time isn’t an issue. “A great approach in timing is talking to your teen while engaging in an activity they enjoy - listening to their favorite new artist, taking a walk, throwing around the football, or cooking their favorite meal,” says Dumler.

It’s also important to check in and ask yourself: Am I in a good place to have this conversation right now? Do I feel equipped to be an active listener? Am I stressed or unprepared for an exchange with my teen?

2. Ask if your teen has time to talk before you start talking

Once you’ve found the right time (not the perfect time) and backdrop for your conversation, you still need to get your teen’s okay before you dive into the conversation. Say something like: “Hey, I wanted to talk to you about something I've been noticing. Is now an okay time?”

3. Practice active listening as you navigate the conversation

“Start by sharing your observations, without judgment and with open curiosity, in a sincere manner, such as, ‘I've noticed you haven't been hanging out with your friends as much lately, I'm wondering what's going on there?’” says Dumler. “As your teen shares, be very mindful that your body language, responses, and follow-up questions are calm, kind, genuine, and curious.”

Keep in mind that your child should do the majority of the talking. “As you stay present, look for body and facial cues from your teen for when to lean in and for when to stop and not push. You may not get all the answers you want in one conversation, but by staying calm, open, and not pushing, you are setting the stage for your teen to feel comfortable sharing more with you in future conversations,” says Dumler.

4. Validate your teen as they share

As the conversation goes on, make sure you validate your teen’s words and picture yourself in their shoes. “Try to avoid oversharing about your own experiences and avoid shifting the focus on you in the conversation. We want to help offer support and resources or assist our teens in problem-solving their own solutions in these moments, rather than simply giving our own advice,” says Dumler.

Ask questions like, “What do you think would help you feel better?” And “Is there anything I can do?” “Avoid getting defensive, making excuses, comparing them to other family members, or letting your emotions heighten,” says Dumler.

5. Thank them for offering you insight into their mental well-being

Try to end every mental health checkup with your teen by thanking them for being honest with you. “This simple comment goes a long way. Remind them you are always here to talk, and if the conversation did identify some resources, follow-up steps, or solutions, make sure you follow through with those plans. This helps show your teen you were listening, you care, and you are a good resource for them in their difficult times,” says Dumler.

6. Continue to check in as the weeks and months go by

“Circle back and check-in in future weeks to ensure it doesn't fall off the radar,” says Dumler. “However, be mindful that your cadence of check-ins isn't too intense or overbearing.” She even suggests scheduling a one-on-one check-in with your teen at a cadence that suits your unique relationship. “This can be as simple as the two of you always going together to pick up Friday night takeout, or you always driving them to practice certain days of the week, perhaps a special treat or weekly walk.” If your teen confides in you about a struggle that’s hard for you to understand, spend some time researching that topic before your next “scheduled” meeting. That way, you can go into the talk with some knowledge of what they’re experiencing.

Calm Health is a mental health wellness product. Calm Health is not intended to diagnose or treat depression, anxiety, or any other disease or condition. Calm Health is not a substitute for care by a physician or other health care provider. Any questions that you may have regarding the diagnosis, care, or treatment of a medical condition should be directed to your physician or health care provider.

Ready to get started?

We’ve made it easy to take the first step. Just download the Calm Health app, create your account, and answer a few simple questions to help us understand how you’re feeling. You’ll get instant recommendations for the Calm Health programs that will be the most helpful for you.

Our programs are created by licensed psychologists, and you can explore them at your own pace, in any order you like.

Try Calm Health
up arrow