It can be infuriating, baffling, and downright devastating when your once cuddly, chatty teen begins to shut you out of their life. Sometimes it can happen quite suddenly, as if overnight. “Where did my friendly, sweet kid go?” you may find yourself asking.
Why Teens Don’t Want To Talk To Their Parents
As much as it can hurt to see your teens close themselves off emotionally, it’s one of the most normal aspects of adolescence. Still, when it’s actually happening to you and your teen, it can really sting.
The phenomenon makes sense. Teens are going through rapid changes — hormonally, physically, socially — and it can be confusing and disorienting for them. This is especially true when they begin a new chapter in their life, such as when they start high school or college.
As their sense of self changes, they don’t always know how to relate to the rest of the world, including their parents. In addition, as the American Psychological Association (APA) describes it, teens naturally tend to hold their feelings inside. “Kids and teens tend to internalize their feelings,” APA explains. “If something is troubling them, they may not speak up and ask for support.”
It’s important to understand that there are positive aspects to all this pulling away. Teens are learning how to be independent, and that means loosening ties with their parents — not permanently, of course. But sometimes teens need to step away pretty dramatically as they navigate new boundaries between themselves and their parents.
Why Teens Might Be More Likely To Talk To Other Adults
It can be baffling when your teen ends up pouring their heart out to an adult other than yourself, but it happens quite often. Other adults — sometimes friends’ parents, mentors, a school psychologist, a licensed therapist, a sport’s coach, a teacher or professor — can end up being easier to talk to than a parent.
Again, it can be easy to take this personally and start to believe that it reflects poorly on your own relationship with your teen. But it’s another one of those things that is developmentally appropriate. The teen years are all about forming a self beyond the nest, and sometimes another adult will have a refreshing and affirming perspective, or a lived experience that may be of high value to your teen.
Plus, there is simply less emotional baggage when a teen interacts with someone other than you. You are still their emotional center, their safe place to land. But parents tend to unleash some of a teen’s more childish, “clingy” emotions, and confiding in someone other than you might feel more emotionally safe, at least for now. You’re still the person who enforced bedtimes and dealt with tantrums, not necessarily someone your teen is turning to for advice or mentorship.
Good Mentors For Teens
Mentors are simply any adult in your child’s life that provides a compassionate listening ear, perhaps a little grown-up advice, or a particular life experience that interests or inspires. Often your teen will find a mentor at school, through an official mentoring program, or through an extracurricular activity like sports or theater. But a mentor could simply be any adult that your teen has occasion to interact with, like a friend’s parent or a trusted therapist.
Numerous studies have shown the power of mentors for teens, including physical and psychological well being, increased rates of high school and college attendance, and the potential for more rewarding careers. Mentors are role models for teens. They can provide positive life skills. Most of all, they can provide a listening ear for some of the topics teens have become too squeamish to address with their parents.
Mentors by no means replace parents. But they offer fresh perspectives, and a way for teens to explore those new and budding parts of themselves that may still feel confusing and uncomfortable.
Is My Teen’s Lack of Communication Normal?
Pulling away is normal, and experts agree that your best tactic is not to take it too personally, and most importantly, not punish your teen for their behavior. If you continue to remain emotionally available to your teen, it’s likely that they will eventually let you back in.
However, not all instances of shutting off communication are positive. If your teens shows signs of depression, or other mental health issues, you should speak to their school or college counselor right away. Additionally, violent behavior, drug abuse, sexual deviance, or extreme issues at school are red flags.
One of the best people for your teen to talk to — whether they are experiencing mental health issues or just need someone other than a parent to open up to emotionally — is a therapist. You can find a therapist who specializes in teen issues. A good place to begin your search is your teen’s school or college counseling office.
In fact, at a place like a university, there are trained counselors on staff at all times to help your teen deal with whatever is thrown their way — from a broken heart, a substance abuse issue, or a bout of anxiety or depression. And, while it is true that sometimes these university resources are limited, online therapy offers a flexible, convenient, and inexpensive alternative. Your teen will be able to text a licensed therapist whenever, wherever for any issue that arises.
As for when your distant teen will begin to confide in you again, it will happen in its own good time. Your job is to love them unconditionally, provide whatever support they need and are willing to let you provide, and then hold tight — because even though they may not show it, they still need your more than ever.