As our children grow into their teen years, many parents often notice a sudden shift in their attitude and behaviour – not to mention their relationship with you. Whether they’re slamming doors, talking back or ignoring you altogether, it can be a difficult time for both parties involved. If you’re struggling to know how to talk to teenagers, psychotherapist Lucy Beresford is here to help.
One reader got in touch to explain her challenging relationship with her teenagers – which only became more difficult following her divorce from her husband. Luckily, Lucy is on hand to offer some helpful advice on how to talk to your teenagers and rebuild your relationship. If you’re in a similar boat, hopefully her advice can help you too…
‘I have recently divorced my husband of 18 years. We have a teenage daughter and son, who have always been a challenge for us. Being apart, my ex-husband and I rarely speak, so have no opportunity to discuss how to manage the children’s problems. They, in turn, do not talk to my husband at all and only turn to me to ask for money. I have no idea what is happening to them emotionally, as they dismiss any kind of support. I don’t know how to regain their trust.’
Lucy’s advice on how to talk to your teenagers
I suspect that, in your family, the various members are communicating, even though they’re not talking. This is perhaps how emotion has always been dealt with, rather than being expressed through words.
With the challenging new reality you now find yourselves in, everyone appears to have retreated into a non-speaking shell, so you are right to seek new methods of reaching out.
Understand the teenage brain
It’s worth remembering that adolescent brains under go great changes, which can trigger moody or taciturn behaviour and make teenagers feel overwhelmed. They might look grown-up or self-sufficient on the outside, but on many levels they are still children.
When they’re exposed to parental conflict, their ability to move forward positively can be disturbed. You and your ex-husband need to be mature about the issue of talking. Children can gain enormous security from seeing their parents relating in a calm and agreeable manner during such times, especially if you’re physically apart.
Try family therapy
You paint a stark picture of your family dynamic, so one option, even if it’s only short-term, is family therapy. This would provide a brilliant forum for you all to meet on neutral territory to discuss not just how the divorce has affected everyone, but feelings in general.
The therapist would guide you through ways to talk respectfully and patiently to each other about your deepest fears. In families, we don’t always know how to show pain. Therapy allows it to be expressed in time-controlled sessions, so there is less chance of individual members feeling overwhelmed by any sudden outpouring of emotions.
Build on your relationship
You also mention that relations with your kids have always been a challenge. You are, however, the one they talk to about practical things, like money. Pat yourself on the back for maintaining some sort of two-way relationship during this difficult time, and build on it.
Be open, affectionate and positive when learning how to talk to your teenagers, even if they don’t seem responsive at first, and remember that research suggests when parents struggle to make a successful adjustment following divorce, children are more likely to suffer anxiety and distress.
By being available to your kids as a calm, consistent and reliable adult in their lives, you will communicate something profound to them about how to survive the knocks of life.
Words: Lucy Beresford | Images: Shutterstock