As a child, he talked to you about everything. As a teenager, he tells you nothing. When you try to converse, he either gives clipped responses or ignites an argument that turns your home ground into a battleground.
You can learn to talk with your teenager. First, though, consider two factors that may contribute to the challenge. *
WHY IT HAPPENS
The quest for independence. To become a responsible adult, your teenager must, in a figurative sense, gradually move from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat and learn to navigate life’s treacherous roadways. Of course, some teenagers want more freedom than they should have; on the other hand, some parents grant less freedom than they could. The tug-of-war that may result can create considerable turmoil for parents and teens. “My parents try to micromanage every aspect of my life,” complains 16-year-old Brad. * “If they don’t give me more freedom by the time I turn 18, I’m moving out!”
Abstract thinking. Young children tend to think in concrete, black-and-white terms, but many teenagers can perceive the gray areas of a matter. This is an important aspect of abstract thinking, and it helps a young person develop sound judgment. Consider an example: To a child the concept of fairness seems simple: ‘Mom broke a cookie in two and gave half to me and half to my brother.’ In this case, fairness is reduced to a mathematical formula. Teenagers, however, realize that the concept is not that simple. After all, fair treatment is not always equal, and equal treatment is not always fair. Abstract thinking allows your teenager to grapple with such complex issues. The downside? It can also cause him to grapple with you.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
When possible, have casual chats. Take advantage of informal moments. For example, some parents have found that teenagers are more apt to open up while doing chores or while riding in the car, when they are side-by-side with a parent rather than face-to-face.
Keep it brief. You do not have to argue every issue to the bitter end. Instead, make your point . . . and then stop. Most of your message will be “heard” by your teenager later, when he’s alone and can ponder over what you’ve said. Give him a chance to do so.
Stay calm. “When we disagree, my mom takes offense at everything I say,” says a teen named Kari. “That just makes me upset, and the conversation snowballs into an argument.” Rather than overreact, say something that “mirrors” your teen’s feelings. For example, instead of saying, “That’s nothing to worry about!” say, “I can see how much this bothers you.”
To the extent possible, guide, don’t dictate. Your teen’s abstract thinking skills are like muscles that need to be developed. So when he faces a dilemma, do not do his “exercising” for him. As you discuss the matter, give him a chance to come up with some solutions of his own. Then, after you have brainstormed a few options, you could say: “Those are a few possibilities. Think them over for a day or two, and then we can get together again to talk about which solution you prefer and why.”
^ par. 5 Although in this article we refer to the teenager as a male, the principles discussed apply to both genders.
^ par. 7 Names in this article have been changed.