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Parenting: The Teen Silent Treatment

If a young person is wrestling with a problem and he needs a few hours or a couple of days to just reflect alone, that is fine. What we have, as parents, done to stimulate talk or friendship or excitement? Do we have the attitude of the song, "You Light Up My Life"? Does your teen say, "I like being home sometimes. I enjoy being with my parents"? Or is coming home something your child dreads?
                             silent teen

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Perhaps we should not ask why our teen doesn't want to talk, but why should our teen talk? What we have, as parents, done to stimulate talk or friendship or excitement? Do we have the attitude of the song, "You Light Up My Life"? Does your teen say, "I like being home sometimes. I enjoy being with my parents"? Or is coming home something your child dreads?

There are times, of course, when a child shuts down on communication because he is wrestling with some issue. Sensitive parents will detect that and won't try to pry. But they will let the teen know they are available.

If a young person is wrestling with a problem and he needs a few hours or a couple of days to just reflect alone, that is fine. Parents can do some initiating by saying, "You know I really love you and I've noticed that you've been more quiet than usual. It seems like you're worried about something. I care about you and I am praying for you. Is there anything you want to bounce off me?" If the teen says no, the parents shouldn't try to force communication but continue to be available.

There were times when one would just hang around the kids, not being nosy or pesky, but available. We would chat and she would sense an easy, open atmosphere, then begin to open up about whatever was bothering her.

Once, one of my daughters was accosted by a friend of the family in a sexual way. Nothing actually happened but the very fact he was trying to force himself on her frightened her. It had made her angry that a friend of the family would do that. She was unusually grumpy and touchy for a few days until she finally shared what had happened. My wife and I had to be sensitive to when she was ready to talk about it and be her friend as she worked through her anger and fear.

Sometimes kids quit communicating when they think we're not going to be their friend or that we're going to take the opposite side of an issue.

Even adults who are close friends sometimes don't want to talk to each other. If it is okay for adults, it should okay for teens. Of course, it isn't good to let this go on for a long time. Parents should be searching their own attitudes for possible barriers they have erected. They should check the atmosphere they have set up in the home.

A negative example of communication happened when one of my daughters confided in my wife about how she felt about a certain boy. Then she overheard my wife repeating that to a friend on the phone. That violation of trust devastated her because she had shared it in confidence. Our daughter resolved never to tell her mother how she felt about anyone. It took a while for my wife to reestablish our daughter's trust.

A great help to open up communication is when parents admit they have been wrong. We were visiting a relative's home when the girls were young and my wife scolded them out of proportion to what they had done. She realized she had been crabby and apologized to them.

This relative later told my wife never to apologize to kids because that was a sign of weakness and showed them we were imperfect. Well, the reality is that we are imperfect. Our kids see that before they are very old. Kids don't respect us less if we apologize when we are wrong; they respect us for our honesty. And honesty opens up communication channels.

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