It’s a tale as old as time – a parent concerned about their relationship with their teenager. Why is this such a common worry for adults across the globe? And what can parents do to ensure both they and their teen are comfortable with their relationship?
A large reason parents may feel unsettled by their changing relationship with their teen is because teens are focused on friendships. This is fundamentally appropriate, and at a certain point in their development, they start confiding in friends instead of parents. Most teenagers are developing skills to become independent in the future and naturally separate from their parents. Teenagers often feel like their parents don’t understand them, so they don’t seek them out as much as they once did.
Parents and teens can also get into a pattern of conflict. If parents are always talking to their teen about getting their hair cut, the clothes they’re wearing, their schoolwork and cleaning their room, the teen will learn to avoid the parent and won’t feel safe confiding in them about the important things.
Your teen may not feel comfortable confiding in you for many reasons. They might feel like you don’t understand them and may “punish” them. They may even be worried they’ll disappoint you. Or they may also have the drive to figure situations out on their own and are trying not to depend on their parents as much as in the past.
So what can you do to make sure your teen feels comfortable coming to you and sharing things about their life?
Healthy communication, positive statements and encouragement are crucial. Parents need to listen instead of lecture. Use as few words as possible so your teenager can share. Teens want their parents to take their problems seriously, even though parents may view their issues as small compared to adult problems.
I ask teens what they enjoy doing with their parents, and they oftentimes can’t come up with anything. Learn what your teen is interested in, or develop a shared interest with your teen, whether it’s a sport, music, etc. One of my teens is a cross country runner. I learned what tempo and recovery runs are so we can talk about what he’s doing and I can encourage him.
You may think you don’t need to be around as much as your child gets older, but when you’re home and accessible to your teen, you are providing them with more opportunities to talk and share. With some teens, scheduling time may work best, like a weekly breakfast or walking the dog together. Remember – sitting down and forcing conversation often doesn’t work. It needs to happen organically.
Dr. Kris Umfress is a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital.