It’s been a week since anything more than “Good morning,” or “How was school today?” has been spoken between you and your son. He’s become more and more reserved over the last few years. Every time you try to reach out, your son shrugs, mumbles a few words and then hides out in his room for the rest of the night. You know there’s more going on behind the scenes than homework and Xbox, but no matter how hard you try you keep getting the cold shoulder.
How did it get to this point? What’s driving your teens further away as their time at home gets smaller? Understanding the “why” behind the “what,” and how to repair it is the way to get your teenager to re-engage with you in no time.
1. The Why
Like Rome, the dynamics of your relationship with your teen weren’t built in a day. If a child has tried in the past to talk to you about what’s going on in his life but walked away feeling dismissed and unacknowledged, communication between you will be virtually non-existent during the teen years. It’s the same as you repeatedly asking him to pick up his clothes and still finding them on the floor every time you walk in the bathroom. The more often your needs go unmet, the more likely it is for communication to become an internal dialogue with yourself rather than the two-way street of understanding.
Fret not. It won’t take nearly as long for you and your teen to unlearn how to be closed off as it did learning how to be. It’s in each person’s nature to be in communication and a relationship with everyone and everything around them. Seeing life through the eyes of your teen is one of the most effective behavior modification tools you can ever learn to use. It helps tear down walls and build up relationships in ways you never thought possible.
Think back to when you were his age and remember how you wanted your parents to talk to you. Imagine what your life would have been like if only you and your parents had been able to speak your truths with love and respect to one another. Make this a priority with your teenager, and follow through with it until you start seeing the results of your efforts.
2. Be real
Part of your job as a parent is to help build your child’s character. Pretending you never did anything wrong as a kid is teaching your son to be inauthentic and setting an unspoken standard of perfectionism that can shut him down altogether. Let him know you, too, are confused about what to do next since this is actually your first rodeo, and have him help you learn how to help him. When your kids understand you also have struggles and were young once too, they’re more likely to gradually open up to you again, and see you as someone they can trust.
3. Be ready
If the communication in your home has taken a sudden nosedive chances are, it’s because your teen has something he needs to tell you but is afraid of what might happen if he does. Whether or not they act like it “on the regular,” teens rarely ever want to disappoint their parents. Rather than feeling like they’re letting you down, they’ll just stop talking. Or, as history has shown you, they’re afraid of the reaction they’ll get if they do actually tell you what’s going on, and so they retreat.
The best way of reestablishing communication is to listen first, ask questions later. Honor your young adult by creating a space for him to openly discuss with you any issues he’s having. Give him permission to remind you you’ll have time to respond soon, but for now he has the floor. Once he’s presented all the facts, and you’ve processed the situation through from his perspective, take the time to discuss it until he is able to come up with a solution that is agreeable to both of you. This key will unlock the door to healthy communication in your family for generations to come.
4. Invoke the cliché
Don’t sweat the small stuff. When parents put too much pressure on their kids to be and act a certain way, teenagers are bound to stop talking. Allow them to express their uniqueness within healthy pre-set boundaries and allow yourself to be their friend. Again, your job is to build character in your teens, not tear it down. Over-parenting stifles independence and confidence and will send up communication roadblocks almost instantly.
Make it clear to your teen that while you will still have to wear the parent hat on occasion, you know they need a friend who’s truly got their back, and you want that person to be you. While they still need peers their age to support them, ultimately you want your kids to come to you with the issues that matter most. Building in them the trust that you’ll help them problem solve their way through life without overreacting (as much as possible) will enhance their individuality, their leadership skills and most importantly their character.
It’s NEVER too late to start reinventing the connection you have with your teenager, even if a wall has been built between you. Brick by brick, you can tear down the wall by taking the time to reinvent your communication skills, as well as the dynamics of your relationship. What have you got to lose?