Home Youth Leaders Articles for Youth Leaders Why It’s So Difficult to Get Students to Open Up

Why It’s So Difficult to Get Students to Open Up

You ask the big, deep life and faith question, and all you get in return?


It’s not that these kids don’t talk. They literally never stop talking on trips in the church van.

But when it comes to real life, family or faith conversations, it feels like you’re pulling teeth.

What’s usually happening here is something so under-the-surface, we might not even notice it.

We’re being tested …

… and our students are waiting to grade us.

When you’ve got students who just won’t open up, it might be because they’re trying to gauge how much you’re actually interested in them.

Now, there are several reasons why a student might not open up. Personality and perceived social standing are two of them. Good luck changing those things.

But there’s a third reason, and it’s something you and I can do something about. Often, there’s something going on in teenagers’ heads—consciously or not—as they gauge you even as you’re asking the question.

Let’s call it the Perception of Authentic Interest. PAI is best summed up this way:

Teens want to talk about their lives, but more than that, they want to know that you actually want to hear them.

You’ve played this game a hundred times.

You ask a student how his day was.

He tells you it was fine in a notably sorrowful tone, his voice trailing off toward the end of the word, as he looks forlornly away from you.

“Just fine?” you ask.

“Yeah, I guess. It’s just, whatever.”

This goes on for a while. You pry, you experience resistance, but at every juncture, it feels like you’re just being goaded to pry more.

You are being goaded to pry more.

This tooth-pulling, CSI-level interrogation is obnoxious and annoying for youth workers every time it happens. Why can’t we just get to the point?

Because sometimes, that is the point.

Sometimes what a teenager needs isn’t your advice or your wisdom or even the opportunity to vent. Sometimes what a teenager needs is to demonstrably know someone cares about them enough to truly desire to hear about that teenager’s day.

Teenagers live in a world that’s rich in talking and poor in listening.

They know that most people who ask them how they’re doing don’t actually desire an honest answer and will rarely stick around to listen to their response.

Most of all, there’s this:

Too many teenagers feel like no one really cares about them. They’d love to tell you about it, but they’d rather give you a chance to prove them wrong.

Go ahead. Prove them wrong. Then, report back to let us know how things are going.