How do I get my teenage son to talk with me? He is a sophomore in high school. He plays a lot of video games, and I don’t think that’s healthy or productive. We used to be close, but now all he does is grunt at me or hide in his room and listen to music at a really high volume. His grades are good, he plays soccer, and he seems happy with school. I ask him about his day and what’s going on, but I don’t really get a detailed response. What can I do?
Dear Frustrated Mom,
It is completely understandable that you are frustrated because you miss the communication you once had with your son. As a teenager, he is maturing and trying on different roles and finding out who he is and where he fits in his social and academic environment. Being a teen is a hard job! Everyone in his world has different expectations for him, and he is dealing with many factors that affect his mood and attitude. It is commendable that he is engaged in athletics and keeping his grades up. How have you communicated to him how proud you are of his achievements?
This is a perfect time for you as his mom, to acknowledge and validate his experiences and feelings. Make sure that you are asking opened-ended, rather than closed-ended questions. Take extra care not to judge or make assumptions. Kids will shut down once they feel we are giving advice or if they feel judged. Talking with teens is an art, but once you understand that your son simply wants to feel heard and validated it becomes easier.
For instance, if he says he wants to attend a concert or festival or movie, make sure you don’t jump in with why you think it’s a bad idea or that you think the music is “not really music.” That’s judging and he will shut down immediately. Instead, ask him what he likes about the music. Ask curious questions about the artists he enjoys or the video games he plays. Avoid making assumptions about whether it’s good or bad. Be open to his experiences and what he enjoys. If he feels you are accepting and not judgmental, then he may invite you into his world. This may take a little while, so please be patient with him. It sounds like he has heard judgment from you around the things he enjoys. Be mindful of being open when you’re with him and truly listen, rather than give advice or tell him how you did it when you were his age. Trust is a very important component of a relationship with a teenager, and it is a two-way street. Once you incorporate the suggestions listed above, you may begin to see your relationship improve.