September 14th, 2016
Teenagers can be mysterious and unpredictable. Some families may feel as though they walk on eggshells when their moody teen is around. For others, it may be pleasant with the occasional chance of eye rolls and sass. With hormones raging, identities developing and emotions high, parents really never know what they are going to get with a teen.
As much as parenting a teenager can feel like going into a combat zone blindfolded, there is one thing that is certain: Any parent of a teen can expect some level of disconnection or lack of communication.
Your first instinct may be to panic when your child decreases communication, but it is normal behavior for teens to talk less to their parents than they did when they were younger. Their interests change, and they are battling for independence. Frankly, at a certain age, most teenagers start to think their parents are the least interesting individuals on the face on the earth.
I know it’s tough to hear, but it’s nothing to worry about.
However, there is reason to worry when your teen decreases communication with you and withdraws from family events, friend groups and the activities they once enjoyed. That’s when parents should take action.
When I say, “take action,” I do not mean you ask invasive questions, have a family intervention and enroll them in a program for kids with behavioral problems. When you notice changes in your children’s behavior, you may go straight to “fixing” them.
However, that is just not going to work.
Your teen will likely resist and feel smothered, controlled and upset. They will disconnect even more, and the gap between you and your child will widen. They may even begin to feel as though you are trying to make them into someone else — even when you are just trying to help.
When I say, “take action,” I do mean you should keep an eye on your teen and their habits. That means mood swings, excessive need for privacy and behavior change in school or in their social life.
If you start to see things that cause you concern, your first step is simple: Make an effort to spend more time with your teen. That doesn’t mean you should dive right into talking about your concerns. Instead, do things they like to do, have fun, talk about anything they want to talk about — because sometimes your teen will tell you everything you want to know if they don’t feel judged.
Once your teen starts to open up to you, you have a better understanding of why they are acting the way they are, which changes the way you will voice your concerns. It will foster a more healthy and positive conversation. It won’t feel as though you are panicking, but that you are addressing something you have noticed. Teens respect honesty. As a matter of fact, they crave it.
Let me clarify something really quick. This is not about being BFFs with your teen; it is about adding friendship to your parenting skills. And when you add friendship to your parenting skills, you are able to listen without judging, correct without shaming and communicate without demanding.
[bctt tweet=”Adding friendship to your parenting skills helps you to listen, correct & communicate better with your teen. ” via=”no”]
Now let’s say you try everything I stated above — but your teen does not budge. Their behavior stays the same. What do you do then? Well, let me add a disclaimer: Your teen will not open up to you overnight. Give it some time and be patient. If two months have passed, your teen has not budged and their behavior is still the same, then you should make an appointment to see a counselor.
OK, let me explain why you should go see a counselor before your teen: Often when parents go to their teens and say, “I think you need to get help,” the first thing they will say is, “There is nothing wrong with me.” And now the gap I spoke about earlier is gigantic, and your teen will withdraw more because they feel you are against them.
So, instead of going straight to your teen with your concerns, go to a counselor first. There, you can talk freely about your concerns, tell them how you have tried to help your teen and give them some background on your family. Then your counselor can give you further suggestions on how to help your teen before going into therapy. That way, when all suggestions, recommendations and books do not do the trick, you know it is time to have the counseling conversation with your teen.
Yes, the counseling conversation. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? It does not have to be. Make sure you do not begin that conversation with your “you are the problem” voice. Present counseling to your teen as a solution that will provide them someone who they can talk to by themselves. You can let them choose their counselor, so they feel comfortable. Tell them they can try it one time, and if they don’t like it, then they don’t have to go back.
Many parents try to force their teen into counseling, which is bad for their relationship and for progress. Teen therapy should be a joint effort for the teen and parent. When a child feels involved, they are more likely to embrace the process. And you definitely want them to embrace going to counseling.
At this point, you may be asking, “Why do I need a stranger to help my child?”
I understand. It may be difficult for a parent to admit they do not have all the answers to their children’s woes.
But here is the deal: A teen might need to talk with someone else because they feel their parents won’t be able to listen without judging them. It’s tough to hear your teen talk about relationships, substance abuse or negative situations without jumping in and saving them. That is why counseling is a great option. You have someone who can build a trustful relationship with your teen and help them save themselves by learning how to make better decisions, communicating their feelings and thoughts, and learning how to be a leader and not a follower.
But remember, counselors cannot be the end-all, save-all for your teen. That is why I recommend a parent going to see a counselor before bringing their teen into therapy. Therapy, on average, is one hour a week for about three months. That means, in order for progress to be made, parents need to know what to do when their teen is outside of therapy. They need to know how to adapt to changes with their teen and how to address issues/concerns in an effective way.
Remember, don’t look at therapy as a way to “fix” your teen but as a way to make your family stronger.
*Now, lastly, if your child is self harming and/or having thoughts of suicide, then you should take them to the ER. When their lives are at stake, treatment is mandatory.
If you need support and professional expertise helping your teen through a difficult time, a good teen therapist like myself can help you and your teen navigate the challenges. You can contact me at (864) 559-8181 to schedule an appointment. I can help people in Greenville, SC, and surrounding areas.