The Science of A Meaningful Life
By Jill Suttie
July 30, 2014
A new book explains the many reasons why teens seem to shut down, even when they especially need parental support.
It’s hard to talk to a teen. I know. I have two teen boys. I like to joke about being like a mosquito buzzing in their ear—they know I’m there, but they wish I’d go away.
According to John Coleman, a British psychologist and renowned youth advocate, I am not alone.
His new book, Why Won’t My Teenager Talk to Me?, explains the many reasons teenagers tend to shut down around their parents and talk more to friends…even though they especially need parental connection and support as they move toward greater autonomy and independence.
Coleman’s book is full of useful information about teen development. He outlines a positive model for parental care of teens with the acronym “STAGE,” which stands for:
- Significance: realizing the continued importance of parents in a teen’s life;
- Two-way communication: understanding the ways teens communicate, even when it appears they aren’t, and taking advantage of opportunities;
- Authority: knowing when to set boundaries and when to negotiate rules;
- Generation gap: acknowledging that today’s teens may behave differently than you did as a teen; and,
- Emotion: understanding how your emotions get triggered and learning to regulate them better.
Though it may seem as if teens avoid talking to their parents out of spite, in many instances they want to shield their parents from worry, or they fear a parent’s negative response. But many teens will talk, if given the right circumstances, according to Coleman, and he gives numerous tips for parents who want their kids to open up to them:
- Consider your timing: Your teenager may not want to talk when you are ready, but when she is ready. If you can wait for the right moment—perhaps late at night when a teen is often more open or when you’re doing an activity together, such as making dinner—your teen may be more willing to converse. If your teen is not ready to talk when you are, consider postponing your talk.
- Accept disagreement: Your teenager may have a different point of view from yours and you need to consider that his view may be valid, too. Be prepared to agree to disagree.
- Avoid judgment: Teenagers have antennae out for judgment, in part because of the brain development happening during adolescence and in part because of their keen social awareness. It’s particularly important for adults to maintain a curious rather than judgmental stance.
- Use humor: Teens may open up more when humor is used. It can take the tension out of conflict.
- Respond carefully: When parents are stressed, they may say things to their teens that they later regret. Try to avoid saying things that are mocking, deriding, or undermining—a sure way to shut a teen (or really anyone) down. Parents who keep their own stress in check will be less likely to blurt out hurtful things to their teens.
- Listen well and often: Communication is a two-way process. The more you listen and hear what is being said, the more likely the teenager will talk and listen to what you have to say. Good listening includes putting away the cell phone and not being distracted by other things when a teen is ready to talk.
These basic tips can go a long way toward helping parents communicate better with their teens. But Coleman also gives guidance for how parents can navigate through more worrisome concerns, like teen sexual activity, drug use, Internet addiction, or eating disorders. He offers tips for assessing what’s going on when a teen isn’t talking—and advice for knowing when and how to intervene.
His guidelines are straightforward, balanced, and research-based. For those who want simple advice about how to understand and talk to teens, this book could be for you.