Often times, parents feel alone or disconnected from their teenager as their teen shifts from being a talkative child to a silent and withdrawn adolescent. Much of this behavior is typical of normal adolescent development and parents may see their once friendly and cuddly child now try to avoid any interactions with them. Experts on adolescent behavior have highlighted some reasons for the lack of communication:
-Need or value of privacy – we all have a need for privacy and most adults are no different. For teens, this need for privacy is added to a desire to have more control over their own lives and to make decisions independently. They construct boundaries so as to practice their own autonomy. The answer “you don’t need to be involved - I got this, Mom” (even when they don’t) is a good example of this process.
-Preference for talking to their friends – adolescent development focuses on the peer group during adolescence. Fitting into the world and negotiating their roles and relationships with others becomes vitally important. As with all the previous developmental stages, once a child develops a new ability, he or she wants to exercise those skills all the time. Now that free and independent interactions with peers are possible, they’re the most engaging thing in the world to him or her. These skills are necessary to success as an adult and are an important foundation for his or her adult life.
-Changes in mood – teens often don’t know themselves why their mood is changing or exactly what they are experiencing. They now have the ability to focus on their internal process and they are very much interested in making sense of their feelings, but that internal focus is time-consuming and complicated. So they divert time away from parents.
-Uneasiness discussing personal matters – as new experiences occur,teens may not have a model for how to talk about what’s going on with them. Both the lack of comfort in their own experience as well as the inability to articulate their ideas and feelings can contribute to silence.
-Normal self-focus – adolescents have a limited ability to see their own impact on others. Although they are developing these skills, they often take for granted that you will give them the time for self-reflection and self-absorption that they need or want. They don’t really consider the impact of their behavior on their loved ones.
For more information about what goes on in the mind of a teen, please consult one of these books:
Why Do They Act That Way?: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen by David Walsh, Ph.D. & Nat Bennett (2005).
Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl To the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager, Revised and Updated by Anthony Wolf, Ph.D. (2002).