I’ve seen it so many times, especially during my policing days. The teenage years roll around and it’s like your kids have developed an allergic reaction towards you as parents. They’ll do whatever they can to avoid you in case their allergy ‘flares up’.
I distinctly remember a job a few years ago where my policing partner and I turned up at a reported ‘family violence’ incident to find the mother in tears. Her daughter had retreated to her bedroom and didn’t want to come out because her mum was ‘annoying’. No violence, threats or weapons, only the mother’s sadness, grieving the connection she once shared with her daughter. She needed someone to talk with and guide her through this next step of parenting. As police, we were secretly as unimpressed with the situation, knowing this everyday occurrence certainly wasn’t a police matter but would lead to an hour of reports!
OK, back to the topic! The avoidance tactics can differ. Boys tend to withdraw to their rooms and girls to some extent, but girls are more likely to become argumentative and verbally challenge their parents. Oh teens, what a joy!
So let’s turn the thinking on its head. Rather than looking at why they won’t join the rest of the family in the common areas of your home, let’s consider why they’re shutting themselves in their room.
The separation aspect during adolescence is a necessary phase of their life as it moves them to the next level of maturity, preparing them for living an independent life down the track.
They’re in limbo between childhood and adult brain development so expect them to be somewhat unbalanced in their relations with you. Physical, mental and emotional changes, questioning of their values and beliefs, friendships, feelings, reputations … they need you more than ever, but don’t think they’ll verbalise it.
For so long they were your little boy or little girl, but now not only has their status changed, it’s constantly changing and they’re trying to keep up.
Remember that your kids don’t hate you, they just need space to learn and deal with their own developing identity.
Give these three suggestions a try.
- Come from a place of love rather than fear. Don’t be scared of what they’re doing in there. It would be a huge mistake to force your teen to keep their door open. Your child will read this as your attempt to control them and you don’t trust them. Think about it – the chances of them being involved in illegal activity behind the closed door is pretty minimal. Just as you need and enjoy your privacy, they do too.
Move electronic devices such as televisions and game consoles to a common area rather than the bedroom. This way the chances of family integration are higher and you’ll have a better idea of time spent using these devices. Boys’ best communicate when shoulder to shoulder. If you can’t get them to walk with you, how about challenging them to a two player video game?
Connect and listen. I’m repeating this because it’s important to remember – your child needs you but they won’t acknowledge it. Be the bigger person and don’t take their rejection personally, especially when you don’t get the response you want. Rolling eyes or a negative response doesn’t mean they haven’t heard you. Rest assured they are listening and there’s a good chance they’ve taken what you’ve said on board. Keep calm and wait awhile before raising the topic again.
Find opportunities to show your kids you love them. Think of it as parenting with arms extended. Hug them in the morning and later in the day. Lie on the bed next to them as they go to bed to discuss their day for a few minutes of quiet connection. Be welcoming to them and their friends.
You’re their role model, remember that. You never know when they’ll open their heart to you, but isn’t it great knowing they can count on the safe and comforting space you share every night. More effective parents preach less and listen more.