By Michele Borba
Let’s face it. Teens really are a different species –and for a variety of reasons. Raging hormones, stress, sleep deprivation, growth spurts, self-consciousness and neurological wiring make teens super sensitive, moody and irritable. Have a little empathy—they are stuck in the middle of childhood and still a bit dependent but have that surge to be independent. More physical changes are happening to their bodies that at any other developmental period. Research confirms that their brains are wired differently so expect them to be a bit “difficult” and a unique species.
It’s also important to remember that there are things besides a bad attitude that can explain a cold shoulder. That’s why is crucial that you know your teen so you can spot the difference between “normal” or something else more serious that may be triggering a cold shoulder. Your first step is to look beyond the cold shoulder and rule out culprits that are not due to a poor relationship. Here are a few top cold shoulder causes—so tune up ones you can. Doing so may make a major difference in your relationship with your child.
Stress: School, schedules, tests worrying about future, college acceptances. sleep deprived
Peer pressure and the social scene: Girlfriends/boyfriends, fitting in, peer pressure,
Substance abuse: Don’t overlook drugs, alcohol, prescription drugs
Hormonal changes, a growth spurt and adolescence.
Your attitude: 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.
A bad habit you’ve allowed to continue.
Avoid Communication Blockers
There are a number of ways to improve a relationship with your teen, but your next step to is honestly watch how you respond to your kid. (Hint: Make sure you’re not giving your kid the cold shoulder which can happen quite unintentionally.) Here are a few communication blockers that are almost guaranteed to tune teens out and off that you should avoid:
- Talking too much or lecturing. Say as little as possible so your teen can say as much as possible (even if it’s 15 seconds). Instead, wait. Stay a little longer. Allow your teen time to think and process.
- Sarcasm, put downs, and judgments. Teens are hypersensitive! Watch your body language. A smirk, tsk-tsk, rolling eyes, or frown shut down a teen and pronto.
- Multi-tasking. Teens hate that we multi-task because even though we are listening they don’t think we’re focusing on them. When your teen says anything, stop and focus on him.
- Intense eye contact. If your teen is super-sensitive, try talking side-by-side instead of front to front. Take advantage of talking while driving, watching television, or playing video games—all use side-by-side talking and are more comfortable for teens.
- Irritable voice tone. Interactions with teens are often like walking through a minefield. A teen’s irritability can quickly turn into a yell and spiral to the parent. Keep your voice tone calm and lowered. Give permission to walk away if things get too tense.
- Too rushed. Don’t be rushed when you’re with a teen. Build in more time to your talks. Just in case the teen does open his mouth, you don’t want to be rushed. Add time if you want to discuss something important. Irritability can cause tension – and you need time to defuse it.
Use Relationship Rebuilders:
Your final step is to find new ways to respond to your teen that will not only thaw his should but rebuild your relationship. Here are a few that teens tell me they appreciate. The key is to find what works with your teen. Use an attitude of “patient persistence” and don’t give up!
- Learn 2 Txt! Many teens say they will respond more to their parents if they text and actually prefer texting – so get in your teen’s world. Learn to text!
- Use the 80% Positive – 20% Negative Rule: Use the “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it” (or bite your tongue) policy. The ideal to strive for is least 80% positive and 20% negative. So slowly stretch your time together without a cold shoulder or blow up. Better to be short and positive to thaw out a relationship.
- Learn to Say the Words “I’m Sorry” Apologize when you are wrong and sincerely convey that you hope you never have “another last night.” Those two words are a lot more powerful to a teen than you realize.
- 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. Find anytime and anyway to connect. Identify the time your teen is most receptive, 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. (One University of Minnesota study found that over half of teens studied reported feeling most awake after 3:00 pm). So adjust! They are generally most receptive (and more reflective) to talking to parents later in the evening–the exact opposite time of adults. If you want to connect, then plan to hang out later to catch your teen.
- Write Notes: If you can’t get anywhere verbally then write notes. One mom and son used a journal to write comments back and forth (which helped reduce conflict and rebuild the relationship).
Know When to Seek Professional Help
But when does a parent know its time to get professional help? Here are my three rules I tell parents:
- Use the TOO INDEX: Is the problem going on too long, with too many other people and spilling into too many other areas of your teen’s life (not just at home but at school and with his friends). Too severe or too prolonged and always use your instinct. No one knows your teen better than yourself.
- Use the three-week rule. If things don’t improve despite your best efforts by three weeks or if things increase in intensity before three weeks and last every day for two weeks, then don’t wait. Get help!
- Use your gut instinct. Come on. NOBODY knows your teen better than you. If you have that feeling deep down that something is wrong, then just pick up the phone and get help! Please!
One dad told me the relationship was so cold between he and his teen that communication was impossible. The dad refused to give up, and wrote a note every night and left it on his teen’s pillow stating his love. His goal he told me was to somehow convey to his child that he loved him no matter what and nothing would ever change his love. Weeks went by and the dad kept leaving those notes, but the teen never said a thing. One day the dad couldn’t find his belt, was late for work, and remembered his son had borrowed it. He went into the teen’s room (which he’d searching for the belt – looked under the bed and found a cigar box. Prepared for the worse (i.e. drugs) he opened it and was shocked. Every note he’d written his son was there in that box.
Bottom line: Don’t give up!
Get more Parenting Solutions by following @MicheleBorba on Twitter.
Dr. Michele Borba is the author of over 22 books including the upcoming Big Book of Parenting Solutions.