September 27, 2013 in Parenting

Even when teens seem not to understand the importance of maintaining positive family relationships, parents know that keeping a healthy relationship with their teen is crucial for the teen’s sense of self, for his or her overall development and for the teen’s learning on how to build relationships with others.  To help foster a fruitful level of engagement between you and your teen, here are two ways to keep your teen talking to you: 

Avoid criticism or attack:  Although it can be deeply frustrating when the lines of communication with your teenager feel like a one way street, it is still important not to attack, as it can further propel them into becoming more guarded, silent, and uncommunicative.  For example, if your teen responds “I don’t know” or with a sharp “no” to a question you ask, becoming angry or demanding about their short response can widen the distance between the two of you.  Instead, take a deep breath (or two!) and continue to engage them in a gentle, loving, and mutually respectful manner - even if it seems like they do not want to speak to you.  Taking this approach can support your teen in becoming less guarded and gives your child an encouraging, supportive and predictably loving base from which to launch him or herself.  In addition, you are modeling to your teen healthy ways to communicate with others in order to get his or her needs met. 

Seize moments of connection:  As teens don’t always let you into their world, it is important to be attentive to moments when your teen opens the window a crack and allows you to be part of his or her experiences.  These moments can be short-lived, but by taking hold of them you can gradually increase the level of connection and intimacy.  Some examples of likely “moments”may occur when they need your support to assist them with a class project or something as simple as finding a dress to wear to a party.  Other moments for connection may arise when you notice that they are in a good mood, on the drive to and from school, when they are sitting at the kitchen table while you prepare dinner, or late at night before they go to bed.  Watch closely for the times when your teen is most likely to offer a few words and be ready to expand on the opportunity with an inviting and interested reply.  Regardless of when these moments arise, meeting your teen with warmth, love, and openness can create a positive interaction in which he or she will feel inspired to continue sharing those moments with you.  As difficult as it may seem when your teen is not responding in a manner you would like, continue to stay encouraged as eventually it will open the lines of communications between the two of you.  Simple questions such as “How was soccer practice?” or “What would you like to do for fun this weekend?” will keep communication open as you talk about things that are of interest to them. 

If your teen’s silence or lack of communication feels unusual or is accompanied by problematic behaviors such as school failure or engaging in destructive activities, then this is a good time to consult with a psychologist or other mental health professional.  By seeking professional help, you’ll get the answers you need and gain access to the tools you can both use to allow your teen to overcome  challenges he or she may be experiencing.  If you would like additional information about this topic, you might enjoy:

Getting to Calm: Cool Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens andTeens by Laura S.Kastner, Ph.D. and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D.