Inside: Why teen boys stop talking to their parents, and how to reconnect with them.
I was putting some laundry away in my teenage son’s room a few days ago, when the tears just started falling. As I sat down on his bed, looking around, I felt almost like a stranger in this room that is a part of my own home.
I remembered days that weren’t that long ago, when he and I would snuggle up here and read bedtime stories and share hugs goodnight. Now, when I find myself knocking on the door to this room, it feels like a barricade between us.
He used to tell me about his day or talk to me endlessly about the new video game he was playing. He would be so excited to share his enthusiasm with me. But now, it is like pulling teeth to get a word out of him.
It is during these moments of silence that I ask myself, “Why has my little boy grown so distant and sullen and silent?”
I wanted answers and to understand why my once-open and affectionate son had suddenly shut me out. I wish I could tell you that I was able to unravel all the mysteries of the teenage boy brain and that I was able to restore the close and connected relationship we once had, but teenagers are hard, and our relationships with them are always evolving.
But that doesn’t mean you must forever resign yourself to standing outside his door wishing he wanted you to come in. There are things you can do to make the heartbreak not quite so intense, and there even are some things you can do to help create a new kind of connection with your teenage son.
Adolescence: A Time of Transition
The teenage years are a period of intense change and development, both physically and emotionally. Adolescents are grappling with new hormones, emerging independence, and a growing desire to establish their unique identity. This phase can cause them to become more reserved and less willing to openly share their thoughts and feelings.
It’s essential to recognize that your son’s emotional distance isn’t a reflection of your parenting or his feelings for you. Instead, it’s a natural part of his journey toward adulthood. Acknowledging this, you can approach the situation with empathy and understanding instead of feeling hurt and rejected.
Six reasons your teen son is acting distant
1. Peer Influence
Starting between the ages ten to twelve, peers take on a more significant role in your child’s life. During the teen years, peers become the most important source for information and support. This can be tough on any parent.
Your teenager is likely spending more time with friends, looking to them for validation and confiding in them about issues in their lives. The desire to fit in and be accepted by peers can make teenagers more guarded about what they share with their parents. This can be scary as a parent, particularly knowing your son may be struggling or making some poor choices.
When possible, consider becoming familiar with your son’s friends and their families. Building a connection with his peer group can help you better understand his world and create a sense of trust. Encourage open communication by creating a welcoming atmosphere for his friends in your home. And try to reserve judgment about their friends and don’t talk poorly about them as this could isolate your teen and cause you not to trust them.
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In today’s always-on digital age, technology and social media profoundly impact teenagers’ lives. While it can be beneficial for staying connected, it can also contribute to emotional distance and a lack of social skills. Your son may be spending significant time on his phone, messaging with friends, or browsing social media.
To address this issue, it’s crucial to discuss screen time and its impact on his life. Set tech boundaries that promote a healthy balance between online and offline activities. Encourage face-to-face interactions and engage in tech-free family activities to foster connection.
You can also use tech to your advantage during this time. If you are struggling with getting your teen son to talk, consider starting some conversations via text message or even using funny memes to soften tough days. A family group chat is also a great way to share accolades about each other and be a source of encouragement when someone is going through something challenging.
3. Privacy and Independence
Teenagers value their privacy and independence more than ever. They need space to explore their interests, make decisions, and learn from their mistakes. Over-involvement or constant monitoring can push your son further away.
Respect his need for independence while staying involved in his life in a supportive and non-intrusive way. Encourage him to share his thoughts and experiences when he’s ready, and be there to offer guidance when he seeks it. Building a sense of trust is essential to maintaining a healthy parent-teen relationship.
Something useful to keep in mind when talking to your teen son is to avoid lectures and instead ask questions when you need him to address important events or issues. For example, “I know you have mid-terms coming up and a big game this weekend. What’s your plan for getting some studying in?” or “Aunt Mary is coming this weekend and needs to stay in your room. Will you have time on Friday to clean it or do you need help?”
We think teenagers are unreasonable, but often they simply want to be treated with respect.
4. Be Open to Changing YOUR Communication Style
Open and honest communication is the foundation of any strong relationship, including the one between a mother and her teenage son. Sometimes we need to assess our own issues before we can improve the relationship with our child.
Here are a few tips to think about when dealing with a distant teenager:
- Stay available and active: we need to remain accessible to our teens, meaning we should try to hang out in the common areas of the house, offer to give rides, or always invite them along (even if they say no.) When they do want to talk, it’s important to give them our full attention so they know we are focused and taking their issues seriously.
- Be curious, not judgmental: Create a safe space where your son can express himself without fear of criticism. Avoid making him feel like he’s being interrogated or judged for his choices.
- Quality Time: Spend quality time together doing activities you both enjoy. Try to embrace what he loves or let him teach you more about it. This can be an opportunity to bond and have meaningful conversations.
- Ask open-ended questions: Instead of asking yes/no questions, pose open-ended ones that encourage your son to elaborate and share more about his thoughts and feelings.
- Remain patient: Be patient and give your son time to open up. Some teenagers take longer to feel comfortable discussing their emotions.
5. Be Supportive and Encouraging
Support and encouragement can go a long way in improving your relationship with your teenage boy. Having an unconditional belief in their goodness can help get you through this challenging time.
Show that you are there for him, no matter what. Celebrate his successes, no matter how small, and offer a shoulder to lean on during difficult times.
It’s also essential for you to encourage his interests and passions, even if you can’t relate or understand them. It can be hard when our sons become obsessed with something that we don’t value, like video games or a certain sport, but showing an interest in what he loves will mean the world to him. It can also be a lifeline to remain connected. It can also show that you believe in his abilities.
When he sees your unwavering support, he’ll be more likely to confide in you and share his experiences.
6. Seek Professional Help If Needed
We need to keep in mind that during puberty, the body is flooded with hormones, including testosterone, which forces many emotional changes that can be hard for them to process. While girls sometimes get overly emotional and cry, boys may tend to withdraw or get angry and lash out.
If your teenage son’s emotional distance or responses are causing significant distress or appear to be a symptom of a more serious issue, such as depression or anxiety, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can guide and support you and your son. They can help you navigate challenging situations and work towards a healthier parent-child relationship.
The most important thing to remember is that when your teen son acts distant, it is a natural part of his development, driven by changes in his hormones, peer influence, and the desire for privacy and independence. Often, your teen son doesn’t understand what’s going on in his body or mind, either.
As parents, we can help this process by reassuring our sons that everything they are going through is normal. It can be hard to step back as a parent, but that can be the one thing our teenager needs to figure things out. It also can improve communication, respect his independence, and demonstrate your unconditional love and support.
The Teen Years Can Be a Tough Season
Remember that the teenage years are a phase; with time, your son will likely become more open and expressive. In the meantime, focus on building a foundation of trust, empathy, and understanding. Doing so can strengthen your relationship with your distant teenage son and ensure that he knows you’re there for him, no matter what.
Looking for more resources on raising your teenage son?
Here is a list of books we found helpful: