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What can I do if my teen doesn't want to talk to me or spend time with me?


teen isolating

First of all, it is crucial for me to start this article with a key point. Many parents mention "my teen doesn't want to talk or spend time with me". In this situation, it is crucial to first identify the sources and reasons behind a teenager's reluctance to spend time with a parent before wanting to introduce any changes. Rushing into solutions without understanding the underlying factors can exacerbate the issue and make your teen feel disregarded. In addition to considering the perspective of the teenager, rushing into seeking solutions can also prove to be detrimental and draining for a parent. Skipping this step can most definitely create more damage to the current tensed situation.

Let’s start from there!


 

Teens often grapple with a myriad of internal and external challenges, such as academic pressures, peer influences, or internal emotional struggles, added to potential family responsibilities.

Finding the root cause leading to teenagers distancing themselves from a parent can be proven to be the most difficult part within this problem.

From my experience, teens refusing attachment and them refusing to connect with a parent generally stems from one these four different reasons:

If you are currently experiencing difficulties with your teen, such as conflicts, disagreements, or concerns about their well-being, I suggest beginning your healing journey by addressing the following:

- A teen lacking attachment from their parents from a very young age onwards or feeling isolated between the ages of 1 to 11 years old. As seen in one of my other articles, attachment is a crucial component of a healthy parent-child relationship. When a parent has not been successful at creating a consistent and stable attachment with their child during the early stages of development, the child may grow into isolation and resist attachment during the teenage years. The absence of a strong emotional bond may lead to a sense of detachment, making it challenging for the teenager to engage in open and meaningful connections with the parent during adolescence. In this situation, it is crucial to start by healing the relationship through communication, explaining the parent’s intentions, and seeking consent from the teen to work on building a relationship during the teenage years.

- A teenager who has experienced judgement, criticism, and discrimination from a parent in the past may develop a profound sense of mistrust and a need for self-protection against potential emotional harm. This history creates a barrier to spending time with the parent or opening up emotionally as a defence mechanism. The constant feeling of being judged can lead the teen to emotionally withdraw to shield themselves from further disapproval. This hesitancy to connect originates from a deep-seated fear of rejection and the apprehension of falling short of the parent's expectations. The teenager, in an attempt to safeguard their emotional well-being, may refrain from engaging with the parent to prevent further emotional distress.

- A teen feeling unheard by a parent. Very often, parents may unconsciously exacerbate this situation by the common misconception that listening equates to agreeing. Actively listening to a teen involves providing space for the expression of emotions, opinions, and feelings without immediately altering or correcting their speech. While parents may intend to protect and educate their child, some inadvertently dismiss the teen's perspective. This miscommunication can result in the teen feeling criticised, diminished, and judged, prompting them to withdraw emotionally and perceive interactions as attacks. Such dynamics may contribute to the teen developing negative self-talk and can pose challenges in developing a strong sense of self-identity. It is essential for parents to recognise the distinction between listening and correcting, creating an environment that encourages open expression without fear of automatically changing their opinions.

- A teen feeling caged or blocked in creating their own identity. Adolescence is a critical period marked by a seek for independence and a quest for identity. Some teens may feel limited and restrained by a parent in their journey of finding themselves. By feeling restrained and limited, I mean for teens to not feel the freedom to think and feel the way they want to. Communication breakdowns, generational gaps, or evolving interests might contribute to a perceived lack of connection. Parental controlling behaviours, excessive expectations, or a lack of autonomy can hinder the teen's ability to explore and develop their identity. Imposing rigid rules without allowing room for independent decision-making can stifle their sense of agency and self-expression. Parental expectations may lead the teen to disconnect and become distant rather than connect.

Overall, a teen refusing to connect with a parent is likely a protection mechanism against past hurt. Most likely, the parent was also hurt in the process, creating a negative cycle. In addition to this, many parents want the best for their child and aim to protect them from the harsh world. However, this can be perceived by their teens as having high expectations.

In conclusion, parents seeking to protect their teens may inadvertently cause them to distance themselves as a result. This cycle is fueled by similar motivations from both parties. Let’s review together how to stop the cycle and reinforce the relationship.

If you find yourself in this situation, you are welcome to ask your teen directly why they prefer not to spend time with you. From my experience, most of the time, the answer received is: “because my parent doesn’t get me,” which confirms all four reasons above.


Don’t worry; it is not too late to save your relationship.


Here are ways for you, as a parent, to start the healing process and involve your teen in building a strong relationship. Going from "my teen doesn't want to talk or spend time with me" to " my teen is looking forward to connecting with me" is possible!

Talking with your teen about spending time with them will require a nuanced approach that involves open communication, empathy, active listening, and setting healthy boundaries. By pinpointing the root causes, you can tailor your responses to better support your teenagers, fostering a healthier and more constructive relationship.

1. Have realistic expectations regarding the type of relationship you would like to build with your teen. Requesting your teen to spend the majority of their free time with you or attempting to become their friend is unrealistic. As a healthy parental figure, the appropriate approach is to expect to spend a few hours together per weekend or a few hours/minutes per evening. It is important for your teen to connect with peers, healthy adults, role models, etc. Teenage years naturally involve seeking other connections such as coaches, hobbies, connections with peers, projects, etc., which is part of the healthy process of identity building.

2. Communicate to your teen that you would be interested in spending more time with them. Then give your teen some time before asking if they are willing. Be careful not to present yourself as making requests or pressuring your teen to connect; simply communicate your wish to spend more time together. You are welcome to explain why you want to spend more time connecting and give your teen an idea of what activities you would like to do with them. If you feel your teen is showing low interest, I suggest taking this opportunity to ask your teen their opinion and their reasons for not wanting to connect. You are welcome to mention the four points explained above.

Ask, listen to what they have to say, then repeat what you heard and ask for confirmation that you understand their opinion correctly.

3. Offer a plan. After having the first communication and feeling your teen involved in the process of spending more time together, it is now time to build a plan. During this step, it is important to set boundaries for both parties. Teens might want to guarantee not getting hurt if spending more time with you. You agreeing not to criticise or judge them can be part of the plan. Setting boundaries on what activities can and can’t be done, and setting limitations is important. Remember, you are the parent, not a friend, and it is healthy for you to be in charge, as long as you give space for your teen to be themselves. You and your teen are welcome to negotiate on a plan.

4. Respect the plan built above in the long term to build trust. The crucial part of this process is to maintain the rules set in place in the long term. If over time, your teen sees you holding your word and ensuring space for them to be themselves, a feeling of trust will begin to bloom. Similarly, if you notice your teen respecting the agreed-upon rules, you will feel more comfortable trusting them.

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