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Parents are responsible for fostering their kids’ emotional needs at each stage of development, and the teen years are no exception. Oftentimes, young adults may distance themselves from their parents due to troubles at school, substance abuse, or other emotional issues. It can be a struggle just to have meaningful conversations with a healthy teen, and if there are mental health or emotion issues to deal with, talking with teens is that much harder. Still, parents have to remain diligent when it comes to staying active in their teenagers’ lives. Here are some tips that will help you reach out to an emotionally distant teenager.
One of the most important things a parent can do, is simply be there when the teen wants to talk. When pressed to open up, teens feel they must maintain their independence by keeping their feelings secret. Find ways to be physically available to talk without making it seem like a demand. Tell your teen, “I’ll be in the living room if you need anything.” Stating your availability invites contact, and your teenager may take you up on it.
Listen and Empathize with Your Teen
Be a sounding board for your teen, not a prescriber of advice. Even if your advice is sound and well-intended, it may send the message that your teen is incapable of solving their own problems. Instead, listen to your teen’s thoughts and experiences, allowing them to express feelings without fear of judgment. When you talk with them try not to pass judgement too quickly and try to be neutral on problems they face. If they feel they’ll only be shut down when they go to you for help, they may not even try.
Don’t Try to Give Your Teen a Makeover
Teenagers are still learning about who they are, and may experiment with new identities on a regular basis. If you feel you must make a suggestion regarding their personality or attitude, do so tactfully—and only once. Teenagers often struggle with self-esteem, and a parent’s constant suggestions can be perceived as rejection.
Be Receptive to Your Teen’s Friends
Being cordial towards your teenager’s friends is a great way to keep your child hanging out at home. Have snacks available, and be friendly when friends arrive at your home unexpectedly. Getting to know who they hang out with can provide much insight into what really is going on in their life. Don’t be too pushy and don’t be too distant with their friends. You’ll want to find a good balance with your own boundaries and limits.
Don’t Take Things Personally
It’s important not to take it personally when a teen lashes out. This isn’t about you; it’s about them, their own confusing feelings, or the inability to express emotions in a mature way. When faced with a tough situation, take a deep breath and let any hurt or anger you feel go. Remind yourself that your child does love you, but may not get in touch with those feelings during an emotional moment. Avoid raising your voice, and try to respond calmly and constructively.
Seek Outside Help
If you suspect your teen is suffering from depression, substance abuse, or other mental health issues, don’t be afraid to seek help from a psychologist or counselor. They can help you and your child work through these complicated issues, and stage a family intervention or treatment, through trusted intervention services if needed.
Providing a strong emotional foundation at home can help your teen grow into a well-adjusted adult. By communicating and empathizing, you will be able to maintain a positive relationship throughout these difficult years.