Communicating With a Hard To Reach Teen
Updated: Jan 31, 2019
Teenage years are often called that “hardest years” of being a parent.
Many new parents get the warning “enjoy these years while you can, because when they get older it’s hard!” This can set up parents to expect teenage years to be hard, something to fear or a time period in their child’s life to completely avoid.
To this I say, pump the brakes. In normal teenage development, it is healthy for a teen to pull away from their parents and start creating friendships outside of the home. It is every parent’s hope that their peer group is healthy, a positive influence and not harmful to their child. But, what if this is not the case? What if you see your teen’s behavior change as a result of their new found friends. And not only do they spend more time with their so called “friends,” they cut you off. Communication goes silent.
This can be a terrifying situation for any parent to be in. And it’s normal to have an instinctual reaction to tighten the reins. Go into fear mode and put their child on lock down. Unfortunately, this reaction oftentimes backfires and may create more distress to the situation, and the teen may act out in new deviant ways. Sneaking around or out, lying and overall manipulating to get their way may become their new language.
This is not what any parent wants. So, what should a parent do whose teen has cut them off?
Here are a few tips that may help thaw the relationship and allow you to reach your teen:
Get to Know Their Friends
Many teens who have a new friend group that they are pretty sure their parents will disapprove of disappear from family life. Or, they isolate in their room, away from the family. After all, show me your friends, I’ll show you your future. And yes, this is the case.
But attacking your teen’s friends may not be the best approach. Instead, invite their friends over. Have them to a family dinner or invite them on a family outing. Your teen may be shocked, and roll their eyes or downright reject you. That’s okay. Keep it up.
Let your teen know that you’re interested in their friends. What if their friends have tattoos, piercings and you’re 100% that they do drugs? Could be. I believe you. But the bottom line is, your teen is spending time with them and if you judge them, belittle them or in anyway make your teen feel like you don’t like them, this may create a wedge between you and your teen. The opposite of what you want. Instead, invite them over. If they say no, ask questions about them. Not in a shameful way, “What’s Kelly’s family like anyway?” Remember, your teen is on high alert. Try, “I’ve noticed you’ve started to hang out with Kelly. I remember you guys were in Kindergarten together. He’s a good boy. What’s he up to these days?” (You may not believe he’s a “good boy” but that doesn’t matter.
All children have good inside of them. Sometimes it’s just hiding under pain and shame). Making your home a safe place for teens to come may be the first step in opening communication.
Understand Their World
My teenage son loves horror movies. I do not. At all.
They scare me and cause nightmares. He also loves hunting. I do not. He loves fast food, the greasier the better. I do not (unless I’m craving it, then it’s a different story). The point is, I have to get to know his world to become part of it. I go to scary movies with him and cover my eyes for the majority of the movie. He laughs at me. I bought him a nice bow and target and praise him when he hits it in our backyard. I cheered when he got his first shot. I join him in his excitement. He wanted to be an attorney for years. I encouraged him to join the debate team, learn how to create contracts by creating one for us with his cell phone use. I joined him in his world. I didn’t shame him by saying “You’re 14, you have no idea what it means to be a lawyer.”
That’s another level of shame called “gas lighting.” Learn more about that here.
Instead say, “I can see that in you! You would be amazing … tell me more about that!” Join them.
Create Opportunities for Time Together
Not on your time table, “Hey! I need to run to the grocery store, want to tag along.” Most teens would not enjoy this. For those who might, invite them!
Take any chance you can to get precious one on one time with your teen. Usually what works best is to ask them on a night out. This may sound silly, but it’s a representation of how you see the relationship. You may have a “girls night” or “bro’s night” but what about a “teen night” with your teenager? This allows them to see that they are your main priority and that they matter.
Again, would have to be about going into their world. Finding out their likes and dislikes. This will take sacrifice, guaranteed. But I can assure you that over time, if this is done on a consistent basis, your teen will begin to thaw.
Note: Don’t blast your teen with questions about their friends, lifestyle choices or use shame / fear tactics once you get them trapped in the car. This is literally about bonding. If you know they are engaged in high risk behaviors, you may approach it gently at the end of the night. But when you focus on your teen’s self worth and your love for them, they will feel more safe to open up. Again, shame has no place on a teen date. Learn more about shame here.
Hopefully these tips helped you understand ways in which you can develop a better relationship with your teenager. Staying connected with your teenage child is about building closeness through everyday activities. Believe it or not, they do want to be close. They want to share who they are and it all just requires patience and thoughtful connection.
If you would like to get more help, we would love to help open healthy communication lines within your family. Stop by for an assessment and we would be happy to help build your family relationships! Contact us here!