As a child, he talked to you about everything. As a teenager, he tells you nothing. When you try to converse, he either gives clipped responses or ignites an argument that turns your home ground into a battleground.
You can learn to talk with your teenager. First, though, consider two factors that may contribute to the challenge.
This makes for complicated parenting, especially because teens are beginning to make decisions about things that have real consequence, like school and friends and driving, not to speak of substance use and sex. But they aren’t good at regulating their emotions yet, so teens are prone to taking risks and making impulsive decisions.
This means that having a healthy and trusting parent-child relationship during the teenage years is more important than ever. Staying close isn’t easy, though. Teens often aren’t very gracious when they are rejecting what they perceive to be parental interference. While they’re an open book to their friends, who they talk to constantly via text messages and social media, they might become mute when asked by mom how their day went. A request that seemed reasonable to dad may be received as a grievous outrage.
WHY IT HAPPENS
The quest for independence. To become a responsible adult, your teenager must, in a figurative sense, gradually move from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat and learn to navigate life’s treacherous roadways. Of course, some teenagers want more freedom than they should have; on the other hand, some parents grant less freedom than they could. The tug-of-war that may result can create considerable turmoil for parents and teens.
Abstract thinking. Young children tend to think in concrete, black-and-white terms, but many teenagers can perceive the gray areas of a matter. This is an important aspect of abstract thinking, and it helps a young person develop sound judgment. Consider an example: To a child, the concept of fairness seems simple: ‘Mom broke a cookie in two and gave half to me and the half to my brother.’ In this case, fairness is reduced to a mathematical formula. Teenagers, however, realize that the concept is not that simple. After all, fair treatment is not always equal, and equal treatment is not always fair. Abstract thinking allows your teenager to grapple with such complex issues. The downside? It can also cause him to grapple with you.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
When possible, have casual chats. Take advantage of informal moments. For example, some parents have found that teenagers are more apt to open up while doing chores or while riding in the car when they are side-by-side with a parent rather than face-to-face.
Keep it brief. You do not have to argue every issue to the bitter end. Instead, make your point . . . and then stop. Most of your message will be “heard” by your teenager later when he’s alone and can ponder over what you’ve said. Give him a chance to do so.
Listen —and be flexible. Listen carefully —without interrupting— so that you can get the full scope of the problem. When replying, be reasonable. If you rigidly adhere to rules, your teen will be tempted to look for loopholes. “This is when kids live two lives,” warns the book Staying Connected to Your Teenager. “The one in which they tell their parents what they want to hear and the one in which they do as they please once they are out of their parents’ sight.”
Validate their feelings. It is often our tendency to try to solve problems for our kids or downplay their disappointments. But saying something like “She wasn’t right for you anyway” after a romantic disappointment can feel dismissive. Instead, show kids that you understand and empathize by reflecting the comment back: “Wow, that does sound difficult.”
Show trust. Teens want to be taken seriously, especially by their parents. Look for ways to show that you trust your teen. Asking him for a favor shows that you rely on him. Volunteering a privilege shows that you think he can handle it. Letting your kid know you have faith in him will boost his confidence and make him more likely to rise to the occasion.
Don’t be a dictator. You still get to set the rules, but be ready to explain them. While pushing the boundaries is natural for teenagers, hearing your thoughtful explanation about why parties on school nights aren’t allowed will make the rule seem more reasonable.
Control your emotions. It’s easy for your temper to flare when your teen is being rude, but don’t respond in kind. Remember that you’re the adult and he is less able to control his emotions or think logically when he’s upset. Count to ten or take some deep breaths before responding. If you’re both too upset to talk, hit pause until you’ve had a chance to calm down.
Do things together. Talking isn’t the only way to communicate, and during these years it’s great if you can spend time doing things you both enjoy, whether it’s cooking or hiking or going to the movies, without talking about anything personal. It’s important for kids to know that they can be in proximity to you, and share positive experiences, without having to worry that you will pop intrusive questions or call them on the carpet for something.
Share regular meals. Sitting down to eat a meal together as a family is another great way to stay close. Dinner conversations give every member of the family a chance to check in and talk casually about sports or television or politics. Kids who feel comfortable talking to parents about everyday things are likely to be more open when harder things come up, too. One rule: no phones allowed.
Source photo: By Pixabay (MoteOo)