Thawing Your Teen’s Cold Shoulder

by | Dec 20, 2009 | Depression and Suicide

When it comes to teens, parents sometimes feel like they’re dealing with a different species all together.  Things like raging hormones, stress, sleep deprivation, growth spurts, self-consciousness and neurological wiring make teens super sensitive, moody and irritable. They’re stuck in the middle of childhood and adulthood with the an urge to be independent. More physical changes are happening to their bodies that at any other developmental period in their life. Research confirms that their brains are wired differently so expect them to be a uniquely difficult species. Those are just a few reasons why parents also feel this is one of the most difficult periods of parenting.

Recently on the Today show I shared tips with Al Roker to help parents thaw out a teen’s cold shoulder so they can stay connected. Here are a few of the highlights of that segment.

The key parenting secret (nothing new on this one) is to “know thy teen.” After all, no two kids are alike. Once you know what’s “normal” for your teen, you can then look for any behavior that deviates too much from his or her standard. That’s why it’s so important to tune into your teen’s mood. Doing so will help you understand a little more about what might be going on with your kid at this critical stage of development. Most of us were “experts” in about those baby years as we devoured all those baby books but not nearly as knowledgeable about those crucial teen years.

There are a number of reasons that your teen might be giving you the cold shoulder. Here are among the most common causes:

1. Stress: School, schedules, tests, worrying about the future, college acceptances, sleep deprivation

2. Peer pressure and the social scene: Girlfriends/boyfriends, fitting in, peer pressure

3. Substance abuse:
Drugs, alcohol, steroids, prescription drugs (Don’t be too quick to say, “Not my kid.” Beware that it might be a possibility).

4. Hormonal changes:
A sudden growth spurt, puberty.

6. A bad habit:
Your teen has a bad attitude that you’ve allowed.

7. Your own attitude: Might the trigger be how you treat your child? To figure this one out, use the “friend test”: Would you talk to a friend the way you relate to your teen? If your friend won’t tolerate it, it’s time to be honest and change your attitude.

There are a number of ways to improve a relationship with a teen. The key is to find what works with your teen, use an attitude of “patient persistence,” and hang in there! Here are a few ways to thaw out a cold shoulder:

Learn 2 txt! Many teens say they would respond more to their parents if they were to use text. Teens actually prefer texting – so to get in your teen’s world, learn to text!

Be 80 percent positive, 20 percent negative. Use the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it” policy. The ideal formula is to strive to be at least 80 percent positive and 20 percent negative when dealing with your teen. Slowly stretch your time together without a cold shoulder or blow up. Better to have your interactions be short and positive to thaw out a relationship

Learn the words “I’m sorry.” Apologize when you are wrong and sincerely convey that you hope you never have “another last night.”

Give kudos. Find anything your teen is doing that deserves recognition.

Hope for the truth. Find some truth in what your teen is saying. Even if it seems
unreasonable. You don’t have to agree with what he says. But strive to find one part where he’s right. “Can’t say I agree, but you sure are learning some great debating principles.”

His time + Your time = The right time. Identify the time your teen is most receptive, and then use that as the optimal time to approach your teen. Hint: Most teens are sleep-deprived and actually on a different time zone than adults.

Get into his zone. Go to a basketball game, a concert, the movies, Starbucks, the mall, the batting cage, yoga class or any other place that your kid loves. Just go together and let him know you care about his world.

Halt communication blockers. There are a few communication almost guaranteed to tune teens out and off.  Here are a few communication blockers to avoid: Talking too much or lecturing. Using sarcasm, put downs and judgments. Multi-tasking instead of giving your kid your presence. Too intense of eye contact. An irritable tone of voice. Being too rushed to pay attention

Target one change you want to try at a time, and keep working at the new behavior until it becomes a new habit. Thawing a teen’s cold shoulder may take awhile. (Think of an iceberg as your image). If you don’t see a gradual warming up, then use the old pen and paper technique. One mom told me that she used a journal to write comments back and forth with her son which really helped reduce conflict and rebuild the relationship. If you still continue to get that cold shoulder, then consider counseling. Just don’t give up!