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My Teen Won’t Talk to Me

Updated: Apr 5

It wasn’t that long ago that you were the sun, moon, and stars to your child. No one knew them better, made them laugh harder, or was more interesting than you. The snuggles, cuddles, car ride sing-alongs, and trips to the park are forever seared in your soul, but have been replaced with single-word answers (if you’re lucky), groans at your jokes, closed doors and faces forever in phones. You pine for connection, but your efforts to get closer aren’t working. As a matter of fact, they seem to be creating more distance between you and your child. The reality is, much of this is normal. The adolescent brain is going bonkers, so up and down moods and large emotions are to be expected. Also, it is getting closer to “fly the nest” day and teens are working HARD to establish their autonomy and independence from us. At the same time, research suggests that teens who maintain a close relationship with their parents throughout this time in their lives tend to be more independent and less anxious and depressed than their peers who do not. Your teen still needs you even if it doesn’t feel like it most of the time. As a matter of fact, many teens, when asked, express a desire to have a closer relationship with their parents. Your influence and support are essential to their ability to navigate the complexities of young adulthood, but keeping the teen-parent relationship a close one can be tricky. Most of us end up doing some inadvertent things that unintentionally create distance between us and our teens.

To get the relationship back on track, you can:

  1. Listen, listen, listen! Be mindful of how you may appear when your teen is trying to talk to you. Put the phones down and silence the alerts and LEAN IN! Listening is more than just hearing, it is working to deeply understand their experience. Listening is NOT fixing, so refrain from giving unsolicited advice. Most of the time, your teen just wants to be heard and is not looking for you to solve the problem. Coming in with a list of what they should do next will feel like a big stomp all over their autonomy. If they do ask you what they should do, I would still recommend holding back. You want to begin to encourage them to solve their own problems, so you can say something like, “Hmm, that’s a tough one, what do you think would be a good first step?”

  2. Stay calm, it’s most likely not an emergency! Many teens say they don’t like telling their parents about their problems because they are sure to be met with overreaction, judgment, and sometimes even yelling and punishment. Remember, your teen is getting closer to having to navigate life fully on their own. Harsh reactions and punishments will only serve to fracture your relationship and ensure that they will just work to be more secretive moving forward. Stay calm and composed and try to empathize with their situation and try to see at as an opportunity to learn a life lesson rather than a reason to come down hard. We all make mistakes, and teens will make lots of them. A wise parent has the capacity to deal with them and partner with their child to do figure out how to do differently moving forward. The next time your teen comes home with some bad news, take a breath and the time you need to respond with a cool head and then respond with something along the lines of, “I’m sorry that happened, what do you think went wrong?” or “What do you think you could do differently moving forward so this doesn’t happen again?”

  3. Stop managing, start partnering! Your teen should be making most of the decisions and taking the lead in navigating most aspects of their life. This includes what activities they participate in, what classes they take, how they get their work done, how they spend their free time, what clothes they wear, and what they want their post-high school years to look like. If they are headed to college, let them steer the ship completely. If we are being brutally honest, if your teen needs significant hand-holding to get applications in, they are most likely not going to be able to manage the independence that college demands. Certainly, you still need to be setting a few boundaries that center around their health, safety, and well-being, but even in these instances, try to make it a conversation with your teen rather than a list of “My Way or the Highway” rules.

Undoubtedly, this time period in your child’s life will be filled with excitement, anxiety, high highs, and low lows. Don’t take their moodiness personally, and know that in a few years they will begin to move back towards you naturally, and, hopefully, if you’ve put the strategies into action, the path back to one another will be a short and easy one!

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