Ever wonder why your teenager doesn’t talk to you? Have you ever missed the days when they were little and they actually shared what they did for the day? You hear about some of your friends whose teens share everything with them, and you wish that were you.
Every week I sit across the therapy room from tens of adolescents. When they start counseling I always ask them whether they feel close with their parents. Some say yes and others say no. Of those who say yes, nearly all of their parents have one thing in common: they don’t judge what their teenager shares with them. Of those why say no, their parents usually have this in common: their teen does feel judgment when they share anything, so they stop sharing.
What kind of parent are you? It’s hard for us to self-reflect on this. It’s a fine line to walk anyhow because we need to course correct our children if they say something crass, or talk about a friend who is into some really bad stuff. On the other hand, if our kids are talking about how tough a Spanish test was, they will resent advice on how to study better next time unless they are directly asking for it.
For most people, listening reflectively is very difficult. We naturally want to help! When someone shares something they are having difficulty with, we want to fix it for them. Unfortunately this backfires a lot of the time. Teenagers end up perceiving advice as judgement. They feel frustrated with unsolicited advice.
If you would like to hear more and more from your teen, use all your strength to refrain from comment. You certainly don’t have to give your approval of things you don’t agree with. On the other hand, if your teenager is telling you about something one of their friends did, just nod along and say, “uh-huh.” In extreme situations you might have to get involved or give an opinion, such as if your teen says their friend is suicidal. However, if your teenager is talking about a friend who regularly cheats on their homework, try not to say anything about that friend being an awful person. The truth is, they might not be. They might lack integrity in their schoolwork, but only because they are desperate to improve a grade. While that’s not an acceptable excuse to cheat, it’s certainly something we can all understand.
For those of you who don’t have a really open relationship with your teenager, it’s tough. You probably don’t even know where to begin. Hang in there and be patient. Your teenager actually wants your affection and attention, but just not if it comes with a lot of negative commentary.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT