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
Bring Icebreakers continued...
"How do you know so much about this?" I asked.
"YouTube videos," she said, wand in hand. "Trial and error. I experiment a lot; whatever makes me look older." Right before my eyes (lids now shimmering), Maggie’s composure melted. She told me how much she hated being slim. Every other girl in her grade was a lot curvier. She wanted to look more mature, like, tomorrow. Twenty minutes later, the spigot of true confession shut off just as quickly as it had turned on. I held back the bromides about late bloomers and forced myself to simply listen and lend support.
I said, "Anytime you want to talk about it, I’m here for you."
Maggie rolled her expertly lined eyes and said, "Don’t ruin it, Mom." (I’m trying not to, believe me.)
Second that emotion
A paradox of teenagehood: Kids feel chronically misunderstood, but do little to correct misconceptions about themselves. They have an image, as well as a secret self, to protect...often by saying very little. So how do you draw out these shadowy creatures in your midst? When chatting, "don’t echo back what they’ve said to prove you’ve been listening. A typical teen might reply, 'Duh, I just said that,'" observes Haight. "Instead, describe the emotion they’ve expressed." For example, if your son brings home a D in geometry and says, "I suck at math," show empathy by saying, "It’s scary to feel like you don’t get something." You’re keying in to the emotion, not telling him he’s wrong ("You’re not stupid!") or going into fix-it mode ("We’ll get a tutor").
And don’t always try to lighten the mood when your child brings up unhappy feelings; you may shut down a conversation before it starts. For instance, a pimple isn’t the end of the world. But for a teen on school-picture day? It is. "Put yourself in her shoes," says Lauren Ayers, Ph.d., a psychologist in Saratoga Springs, NY, and author of Teenage Girls: A Parent’s Survival Manual. "Remember what it was like to feel vulnerable in a high-pressure situation. You may think a joke puts the problem [or pimple] in perspective, but you’re really belittling her." Instead, empathize with the emotion. Say, "It’s frustrating to feel out of control about the way you look." Odds are, she’ll tell you more about how she’s feeling.
Be the student
Yes, you’re the parent, but flaunting your experience and expertise can make a teen clam up. Instead, "If you humble yourself, and act like you don’t have a clue, you give teens a chance to feel superior," says Ayers. "And they will take that opportunity."