This post was originally published by Teen Line in October 2015. You can find the original post here.
Two of the most common questions I get asked the most is "Why my teen doesn't talk to me?" and “How do I get my teen to talk? All they do is grunt or give one word answers.” There’s no doubt about it; the teen years can be hard on family relationships. The sweet 8 year old who once told you everything, now has a life of his/her own. You have become “embarrassing” or “don’t understand.” As hard as this is for parents to hear or accept, this is a NORMAL part of adolescence.
I feel privileged here at Teen Line to get an inner glimpse into the workings of teens, their struggles, challenges and triumphs. I also get insight into the reasons why teens often don’t talk to their parents when things are bothering them. Here, we want to share with you some of those reasons and teach you a few tips to stay in touch with your teens (even as they’re pushing you away).
Reason #1: They don’t want to overwhelm or worry you. Teens can be very intuitive, even when it seems like they aren’t paying attention, and know when you’re already at your limit. They don’t want to add anything else to your plate, so they keep things inside or act them out in harmful ways.
Reason #2: They don’t want you to fix it. When your child was in elementary school, maybe it was okay for you to talk to their teacher or friend’s parent. Now that they’re in high school, no way! Not only do they think you can’t fix it, but they don’t want you fighting their battles.
Reason #3:They don’t want you to get mad. Teens know what kind of behavior you won’t tolerate, and they don’t want to be the ones to tell you they did something you won’t like or agree with.
Reason #4: You won’t understand. That is the universal disconnect between parents and teens. You may even remember feeling that way about your parents.
So what can you do about this?
SELF-CARE – take care of yourself, and find adults in your life to share your stress with so that your teens don’t see it spilling over.
LISTEN – “Sometimes we need someone to simply be there. Not to fix or do anything in particular, but just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported” unknown.
BREATHE – don’t forget. A deep breath or two before you react is always good.
EMPATHY – try to bridge the understanding gap, put yourselves in their shoes, and see why they may have acted a certain way.
Teens are supposed to separate from their parents, figure out who THEY are, and what values are important to them. This also means not telling their parents everything, so make sure you are realistic in your expectations of what they tell you. This is also a good time for you (as a parent) to explore other pursuits not related to your child(ren). Remember that painting class you never had time to take? Maybe now is the time. As your teen “needs” you less, it’s important that you take care of you, so that they feel okay while exploring their independence. Sometimes when you can take a step back, they are more likely to seek you out. It’s also important to recognize that your teen is not you, and pushing them to be who they are not leads to more tension.
Here are a few tips to stay in touch with your teens (even as they’re pushing you away):
Take interest in their interests. Teens have amazing passion, enthusiasm, opinions, and knowledge. Let them be your teacher, and share some of that knowledge with you. Ask for their opinions and perceptions. Just be careful not to get so involved in their interest that it is no longer “their thing.”
Maintain some family traditions. Perhaps your kids resist having dinner together every Friday night because now they want to be out with friends. Forcing them to be there can lead to a hostile environment. Find ways to salvage some of your traditions that don’t feel so limiting of their social development.
Don’t be afraid to limit screen time in your presence (especially in the car). Cars are often a great time for conversation. Not talking directly face-to-face can take the pressure off of conversation and make it easier. If your teen is on their phone and texting with friends, you lose that opportunity to engage.
Remove the phrase “why did you do that?” from your vocabulary. The reality is all of us do things that we shouldn’t have done or said, particularly teens. Rarely are you going to get a productive answer from “Why did you do that?” It generally makes your teen feel judged and less eager to talk with you further.
Don’t try to fix. Our teens are no longer helpless infants. When we fix problems for them, we send the message that they are incapable of handling things on their own. We also deprive them of the opportunity to learn conflict resolution, frustration tolerance and the gratification that comes with doing it on their own.
Don’t minimize or deny their feelings. Teens don’t have the life experience we do as adults. Their first breakup really is the end of the world. Telling them that it’s not a big deal or they shouldn’t be so upset just sends the message to them that you’re not someone to go to with their big feelings. This is the opposite of what you want. Try to put yourself in their shoes, and/or remember a similar experience when you were a teen, and respond with empathy.
What do you think? If you have any feedback or there is something you will like to add, contact us, we would love to hear from you!
At Teen Line we work to provide personal teen-to-teen education and support before problems become a crisis, using our national hotline and community outreach. Visit our Parents & Caregivers page for more resources and information to help you understand and support teens’ mental health as well as promote overall well being.