Why won't my teen leave their room or socialise with the family? I'm a child development expert and here's why it's totally ‘normal’

The best way to encourage your teen to spend more time with you is to pull back on the pressure

Young teenage girl sat in room with phone
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you constantly find yourself wondering 'why is my teen always hiding away in their room?' know that you are not alone, and they are not broken. Here How to raise a teen author and Child Development expert Sarah Ockell-Smith shares more...

“Sarah, for goodness sake, we’ve hardly seen you this weekend, come downstairs!.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard this phrase as a teen. My parents used to complain when I spent hours alone in my bedroom. When family visited I was forced to sit downstairs and “be sociable.” I remember how agonising it was and how glad I was to retreat back to my bedroom again when they went home.

For me, as a teen, my bedroom was my sanctuary. It was a place filled with my favourite things. It allowed me to be myself and gave me time to think. It gave me somewhere to listen to the music I liked and watch the TV shows I liked. For teens today, their bedrooms gives them all of these things, and they also provide a place for them to socialise with their friends privately online. My parents didn’t understand me at all as a teen.

Parents today are still confused about teenage behaviour and teens are labelled rude and antisocial. Perhaps when we were teenagers ourselves we vowed to be different when we had children, I know I did. I remember thinking “I’m going to be a chilled mum. I’m not going to constantly nag my teens like my parents nag me,” and yet I’ve often fallen into the trap of saying the exact same phrases to my own teens that my parents said to me. I cringe after I’ve shouted out “come downstairs and be sociable!” when a guest arrives, but it’s so hard to break the cycle and not end up repeating the very same behaviour that you’ve inherited from your parents.

In this article, I will help you to understand your teen’s behaviour and while it may not encourage them to spend more time out of their room, it will make you feel better about it.

Why is my teen so unsociable?

The area of their brain responsible for emotion regulation is still under development and won’t be finished for another ten years or so. Until this happens, when parents ask, “when are you going to come and spend some time with us?” instead of answering rationally, they’re more likely to be met with huffs, eye rolls, swearing, door slamming or very often: silence. Again, these behaviours are all normal for teens, they are not being deliberately rude or disrespectful, they’re just being a teen with a teen brain.

Teens today are being sociable when they’re shut away in their rooms, they’re just being sociable with their friends, rather than us. As a parent I’ve learned to not take my teens’ behaviour so personally, if they chose to spend all day in their bedroom then it likely has nothing to do with me. The problem here is that teens aren’t so good at communicating their feelings.

A teen who is otherwise happy choosing to spend most of their time in their room is showing totally normal teen behaviour and honestly, the best thing parents can do is just leave them to it, but what if there are underlying, more worrying issues?

When should you worry about your teen spending lots of time alone in their room?

  • Heartbreak
  • Friendship issues
  • Bullying
  • Mental health conditions

A teen who is facing their first heartbreak, which may also occur through unrequited love, or even a parasocial relationship (where they believe they have a relationship with a celebrity, or an influencer) as well as the end of an actual relationship, naturally wants to retreat to a place of safety and comfort.

Consider doing this to help: Make sure you teen knows that you are there for them if they want to speak to you. Never belittle their feelings, while you may know that there are plenty of other fish in the sea, this isn’t something they want to hear right now. Instead, bring them a cup of their favourite drink, a piece of cake and a fluffy blanket and let them know that you’re ready to listen if they want to talk, or you’re happy to give them space if they prefer.

"huffs, eye rolls, swearing, door slamming... are all normal for teens, they are not being deliberately rude or disrespectful, they’re just being a teen with a teen brain."

Friendship issues
Teens often fall out with friends. Some friendships end completely, while some change temporarily. Once again, teens will often want to be alone to work through their feelings privately.

Consider doing this to help: Much the same as with heartbreak, make sure your teen knows that you are ready to listen unjudgementally and to offer some help if they need and want you to.

Sadly bullying is not uncommon in the teen years. 40% of teens have been bullied recently according to research. Bullying today often occurs in the form of cyberbullying too. If your teen is uncharacteristically quiet and is spending far more time in their room than usual, as well as perhaps trying to avoid social events they usually attend, they may be being bullied.

Consider doing this to help: Check in with your teen regularly and encourage them to let you know if they feel they are being bullied. Let them know that you will do whatever you want them to do, and that you won’t rush off and try to resolve things immediately if they don’t want you to. Try to formulate a plan to tackle things together.

Mental health conditions
Sadly 1 in 5 teens today have a diagnosable mental health condition. If your teen is retreating to their room far more than usual and you notice changes to their eating habits, socialising and they are lacking interest in things that they usually enjoy, they may have a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression.

Consider doing this to help: Once again, let your teen know that you’re there for them. Listen more than you talk so that they feel comfortable sharing with you. If your teen is at school or college, talking with their pastoral support team, or SENCo (special educational needs coordinator) if they have any special educational needs or neurodiversity is a good starting place, alternatively chat with your GP, or a specialist adolescent mental health charity

Ultimately, the best way to encourage your teen to spend more time with you is to pull back on the pressure, try hard not to retaliate with hurtful words or punishments when they are angry or rude towards you and instead be accepting and stay calm, modelling the empathy and compassion you hope for them to show you one day. The more your teen feels that being with you is a safe space where they can act authentically, the more time they will want to spend with you.

Where to go for extra help

There are plenty of family therapy services and organisations dedicated to improving communication and relationships between parents and teenagers.

Family Lives offers online advice by age group, as well as a live chat, confidential helpline, parenting forum and email support, They can also signpost you to parenting services in your local area.

Young Minds is another charity that provides mental health support for parents and young people. It includes advice on how to talk to your teenager and support for professionals such as youth club workers and football coaches. Young Minds also offers a parents helpline and a confidential phone chat, live chat or email for kids under 19 years old.

FRANK offers help and advice to young people and parents about peer pressure, drugs, and alcohol. It has a 24-hour phoneline that’s open 7 days a week. It also offers a texting and email service.

Anti-bullying Alliance is a coalition of organisations and individuals that are united against bullying. It offers all types of expert-backed advice and support about bullying.

Elsewhere on the site, discover different ways you can try communicating with your teenager, from 25 conversation starters to the one question you should ask your teenager to improve your relationship immediately. Plus, what to expect when your teenager starts dating and how to get them to talk to you about it.

Sarah Ockwell-Smith
Tween and teen expert and author

Sarah Ockwell-Smith is a mother of four young adults. She has a background in Psychology and clinical research and has also worked as an antenatal teacher and doula. Sarah has written fifteen childcare books, covering everything from newborns to teenagers, with a special emphasis on ‘gentle parenting’. Sarah regularly contributes to National TV and radio, including Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 4 and 5, she has also written for national publications including The Guardian, The Express, The Daily Mail, The IPaper and The HuffPost. Sarah lives with her family, two rescue dogs, cats and chickens in North Essex. Sarah's newest book How to raise a teen is due to hit shelves July 4th 2024.