The teen years are a time of extensive development, both in the body and in the brain. Watching your child begin to transition into an adult using their unique gifts and personalities can be extremely rewarding. However, those developmental changes may also bring relational changes, leaving parents feeling uncertain about the next right move.
It can be tough when you feel your child pulling away. Maybe your teen has had some mood changes, and is testing the boundaries with how they speak to you or act around you. Perhaps it feels so volatile that it’s difficult to go into the house when you get home.
You may have tried to reach out to your teen, only to be rejected. You may feel that nothing you do is right and you’re tempted to give up. Our Atlanta counselors are familiar with this dynamic, and have some ideas for you.
Say Hello Anyway
It’s hard to want to reach out when you anticipate being rebuffed. Or when you’ve reached out in the past, only to have your teen invite you to leave the room. Unless you’re routinely involved in unhealthy communication/behavior patterns with your child, remember that the rejection is probably not personal.
Most teens in healthy homes still want engagement from their parents. They, like all humans, still want to know that they are secure in their parents’ love and acceptance. You may be tempted to walk past their closed bedroom door when you get home to avoid any unpleasant encounters. But it can be so impactful to just knock on the door and poke your head in to say “Just wanted to say hi. Can I bring you a soda/water/whatever? How was your day?” and then let the response be what it is, within reason. This lets your teen know that you are present and care.
Practice Validating Their Emotion
Teens often have lots of emotion. Sometimes it may not make sense to you. Most of us are a long way out of our teen years and it can be hard to connect. But neurologically, they are learning how to control the surging of the big feelings that come.
Giving them permission to have their emotions can be a large help. You can still set needed boundaries, but allowing them to express distress over a fight with a friend or anger at being interrupted helps them learn that you are a safe space for them. This could look something like:
Parent: How was your test today?
Teen: I told you that my test was on Friday! You never listen! I don’t know why I tell you anything!
Parent: I see that I got the date wrong, and that you feel like I never listen. I can understand why you’re frustrated. I’m going to give you some time, and then I’d like to come back and talk about what happened.
It can be so easy to react and defend yourself in that moment, and learning to validate will take time. Giving your teen 30-60 minutes will help regulate their nervous system and allow them to be more neurologically receptive to discussing the underlying issues causing the outburst.
Engage In What They Like To Do
If you’re not sure what your teen is into now, ask them. And then when they tell you, ask more questions. If it’s drawing, ask if they’d show you something that they’re working on. If they show you a piece, ask them to tell you about it. If it’s video games, ask them to teach you what they’re playing or if you can watch them play.
Whatever the hobby is – sports, art, music, theater, reading, painting miniatures – actively be interested. Show up to the game (even if they say that it doesn’t matter) or art show. Ask them if the two of you can have your own little book club. Take them to the hobby store and have them pick out a miniature for you to paint.
The teen years can be full of uncertainty for parents as well. You want to give them independence, but you also want them to know that you love them and care about them at every stage. Adjusting to dynamic changes can be rough, and our Atlanta counselors are here for you. If you, your teen, or your family unit needs help, reach out today.