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What Your Teen Isn't Telling You

If your child has been giving you the silent treatment, here's how to subtly but surely improve

WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

By Valerie FrankelGood Housekeeping Magazine Logo

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, my daughter Maggie, 15, didn’t come home on time from school. I tried her cell phone; no answer. To my knowledge, she didn’t have any activities or specific plans. By five o’clock, genuine worry kicked in. My hand was poised over the phone. I had no idea whom to call. Her friend circle was in heavy rotation.

At 5:13, she walked in, dropped her backpack on the floor, and said with infuriating nonchalance, "Hey. What’s for dinner?"

"Where have you been?" I asked, sounding just as shrill as my mom had when she had asked me the same question.

"Shopping with some friends," said Maggie.

"Who?" I asked. "Girls from school," she said.

"Which girls? What stores? Why didn't you call?"

"If you're going to interrogate me, forget dinner," she replied. "I'm going to my room."

I backed down and served the meal. My maternal feeding instinct was greater than my fear of her juvenile delinquency. Later, when Maggie was allegedly doing homework, she quickly closed her laptop whenever I came near.

Only a year earlier, her life had been an open iBook. She’d told me everything about her friends, thoughts, and concerns. during the motormouth stage, I had sometimes wished she’d shut up. Now? Couldn’t pry her mouth open with a crowbar. I missed her wise-for-her-years insights, the middle school gossip, the sound of her voice. High school had changed Maggie. She’d graduated to other concerns. Not that I knew what they were.

"Sounds like Maggie is right on schedule," says Lynn Schlesinger, a family therapist in Summit, NJ. "When most kids are ages 12 to 15, they begin to separate from their parents and become their own people. They start to rely on their friends for emotional support and turn less often to Mom and Dad. Many older teens, 16 and up, can be fiercely protective about their privacy. Their bodies change, they’re more aware of social pressures,and suddenly they’re embarrassed about everything — including their parents."

The sad irony about so-called "healthy separation": It happens at precisely the wrong time. In high school (or before), kids stumble onto the rockiest terrain of their young lives — sex, drugs, alcohol, body-image issues, social and academic pressure. Having been there, I have so much wisdom to share. Maggie, though, isn’t remotely interested in hearing it.

The child who used to sit on my lap while we watched American Idol now thinks I’m a nosy, judgmental, critical, interfering rube. She’s right. But still. I'm not curious about my daughter's private life for my sake. The goal isn't to crack her like a nut. I just want to make sure she's OK...and, if not, to reassure Maggie that I want to help. Communication and conversation: That's what I want. And so, seeking to grease the wheels of teen/parent relations, I ferreted out strategies from experts plus some other unlikely (but wise) suspects.

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