Updated: Dec 26, 2021
Your teenager is the best at slamming doors, only staying in their room, and not talking to you about their problems. If they do, they assume that you are too old to understand or it turns into an argument when all you are trying to do is be there for them and enjoy these last few years you have left together under one roof. Sometimes these days remind you of the terrible twos phase all over again.
You want a relationship where you can talk to your teenager, spend time with them, have them listen, and help them in their decisions or just be there for them, but that seems impossible. Teenagers are at a stage where they naturally need to pull away from their family and make their friends more central. This is why everyone loves shows like How I Met Your Mother and Friends. In these shows, they are building their friend group bond, not a family bond.
Teenagers are also known for making risky, impulsive decisions that can affect the rest of their lives, so they do need you as a parent involved. They need to be able to come to you and have a sounding board for their decisions.
Rest assured, there are a few ways to help your teenager want to talk to you and work towards having a positive family relationship. There are ways to help your teenager know you are there for them (though not always agreeing with them), and you will always be there for them no matter what happens.
1: Start With Quality Time With Your Teen
If you want to be able to have your have a positive relationship with you and want to be close with you as a parent, start with just spending time with them. This could be ten minutes of being interested in their video game, asking unique questions about their day instead of just “how was school today” or taking them to do their favorite activity. Teenagers can be very money-driven and activity-driven, as their brain actively seeks novelty during this age. It may be worthwhile to sit down with your teenager and make a list of fun activities to do together and have it range from less expensive, such as hiking, to most expensive.
When we start with quality time, we have the foundation for the rest of the listening and positive relationship. With some teens, more gets revealed during activities or car rides than in the course of a normal day.
2: Practice Your Listening Skills
Teens can get evasive with direct questions but will tell you information in more of an offhand way. This can be a great place for reflecting on what they are saying, really listening to the tone, or even just thanking them for sharing. Before you speak, take a deep breath, so you can truly be reflective in your listening and give them that pause as well. Be very careful to avoid judgment in your listening and reflecting. This is not a space to tell them what you would do, what they should do, or how to handle it--this is a space to say reflective phrases such as “that must be a tough decision,” “wow, that must have been hard for you to handle,” or “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling after that.” Focus on reflecting and validating their feelings, versus giving an opinion. This will help them feel closer to you and thus add more positivity to your relationship with your teen.
3: Give Age-Appropriate Responsibility
If you are treating your teenager like a child, chances are they won’t want to come and talk to you or listen to you and your parent-teen relationship will be filled with negativity. Start by giving age-appropriate responsibilities and choices, such as being able to do sleepovers, them learning how to order for themselves at restaurants, or them earning an allowance for chores. This can be a place for open dialogue and discussion, and a place to teach teens how to negotiate or share their feelings. These are skills they will need in the real world when they have to deal with bosses or roommates.
Adulthood happens fast, so our teens need to be prepared. When teens have meaningful responsibilities, they often feel more connected to their parents and want to let them in more, versus when they are treated like children. This is a great place for you to be their safety net while they still have you.
4: Give Praise To Your Teenager
If I had a boss who never praised me or told me what I was doing well, I wouldn’t want to talk to them or do extra work for them. The same goes for kids and parents. In every relationship, there is a 5:1 relationship bank where there should be 5 positives for every 1 negative. The positives don’t have to be big moments, but something as simple as a pat on the back, a smile, a shared laugh, or just telling them what they are doing well. Plus, the more you give them praise, the more the family will adopt a culture of positivity and it's possible your teenager will even praise you or notice your efforts. A little appreciation every now and then is definitely something most parents of teens can use, however, you won’t get it unless you give it.
5: Notice Your Teenager
We all want someone who notices us and pays attention to what we like and dislike. Teenagers have intense changes happening in their brains and need that extra level of noticing. This could be monitoring their moods, noticing if they are isolating themselves or sleeping more, or if they are eating less and not doing as much. If you are noticing your teen having mood changes and seeming depressed, anxious, or more--this could be a good time to set up an appointment with a family therapist who can help you talk to your teen and help your teen overcome the challenge that the teenage years can be.
Feeling Overwhelmed By Parenting Your Teenager And How They Won't Talk To You?
If you find yourself being overwhelmed by parenting a teen, really struggling with communication, and wanting them to have a safe space to talk--you aren’t alone. Research shows that approximately 1 in 5 teens in the United States suffer from a mental disorder.
If you are wondering if you can resolve the conflict yourself or need family therapy, click here to help decide your next steps.
Family therapy can be a great place to work on getting back to being a tight-knit family that gets along and enjoys each other's company. It can teach you and your teen new ways to communicate, especially during arguments. These skills will help not only their relationship with you but also their future relationships.
If you are looking for family counseling, Mary Willoughby Romm is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virginia who provides online therapy for Willow Tree Healing Center. She enjoys transforming the lives of women, college students, kids, tweens/teens, and families through providing communication strategies, coping skills that work, allowing a safe space to be heard, and actively working towards helping you with your challenges. She is certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (ages 2-7) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counsels substance abuse in teens and adults, and practices Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.
Please send an email to email@example.com to explore working together.