Your once chatty teen has suddenly clammed up. No parents enjoy getting the “door shut and silent” treatment from their child, especially when you feel like you’ve previously enjoyed a close relationship and nothing has changed from your perspective.
The first thing to do is to take a breath and understand that pulling away from parents is not only normal but also a necessary developmental stage of adolescence. Navigating this transition towards independence is difficult and as much as children hate to admit it (and probably won’t), children still need parents to stay connected and involved in their lives.
Teens need their own space but they also need their parents. In fact, most teens say they want to be closer to their parents but don’t know how to do that.Therefore, while your teenage child is doing the work of separating, you need to do the work of carefully bridging the gap.
Whether or not you have cause for concern really depends on the extent to which your kid has stopped talking. Let’s look at 3 possible scenarios:
1 – You and your child used to be so close. They told you everything and now, suddenly, they’ve shut you out and only share their private thoughts with friends. In this case, you have very little to worry about. And painful as it may be, you have to try not to take her choice personally. They are doing what they are supposed to be doing.
What to do:
- Don’t lecture them or tell them how hurt you feel
- Try to have positive interactions with them
- Engage them in activities you’ve enjoyed doing together
- Sit down to meals with them
- Don’t pump them for information. Instead, open up and share something funny or interesting about your own life. If you open up, they’re more likely to do the same
- Talk to them like an adult with respect and make it clear that you value their opinions and expect respect in return
2 – Your once lovely and affectionate child now responds to you with one-word answers and annoyed eye rolling. They spend as little time with you as possible and seems to reserve all their enthusiasm for their friends. Though it may be maddening and you might be tempted to punish this kind of behaviour, please be aware that it still falls well within the range of normal teenage development. Focusing on peer relationships helps children learn to be less dependent on parents—a necessary step to becoming happy, independent adults. That said, it’s still your job to insist on respect and to keep your child safe.
What to do:
- Set appropriate limits, but focus on strengthening your relationship, too. You’ll get no respect if they don’t feel connected to you
- Resist the urge to lecture. If you can do that, they won’t need to push you away in order to become themselves
- Remember that teenagers can be emotional. Look for the distress under the disrespect, and remind them of who they really are. By saying something like, “I know you’re upset but you aren’t normally unkind,” you can create the beginning of a conversation
3 – Your child speaks to no one and spends all their time in their room with the door closed. They have withdrawn from friends, lost interest in activities that once gave them pleasure, and has grown increasingly isolated.
This kind of behaviour could be cause for serious concern and falls outside the realm of the normal teenage development. You need to find out whether your child has undergone some kind of trauma such as cyber-bullying, sextortion, or viewed distressing content on-line.
Alternatively the issues could be related to drugs or alcohol. This behaviour could also indicate the beginning of a serious mental health issue such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, all which become more common in the late teens and early 20s – OR frustratingly it could be nothing!
It’s concerning if they are pulling away from everyone they know. Retreating into an online world, for instance, isn’t an acceptable substitute for talking to people in real life. Internet relationships can become very intense very fast, and it’s hard to know if the people your daughter or son is friends with online are a good influence, or even who they say they are.
What to do:
- If your child seems hostile and angry, give them the chance to explain if you’ve done something wrong
- Privacy only goes so far. No teenager’s room should be off-limits to a parent. You have the right to know what your child is doing in her room, especially if they are spending hours at a time alone there
- Insist on more information. It’s not at all uncommon for teens to answer questions like “Where are you going?” by saying simply, “Out.” And “When will you be back?” with “Later.” Stand firm and tell him or her you need specifics
- In cases where your child refuses to communicate, it may be advisable to talk to their teachers
- Seek professional help from a qualified clinician. Begin by calling a paediatrician and describing your child’s behaviour in detail
Compiled in collaboration with SaferLondon, the Anti-Bullying Alliance and John Carr OBE.