If you’re a parent of a teenager, you may have started noticing changes in your child’s behavior. Maybe they’re more on edge, or prickly around the edges, maybe less patient for ordinary questions you’d ask just to check-in.
You may also be wondering how you can get through to them, but you should be thinking, “when?”
In a column for The Washington Post, Colorado-based psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour says your teenager might have an easier time opening up to you as you’re about to go to bed.
Damour, author of “The Emotional Lives of Teenagers,” told WTOP that parents should welcome the opportunity to connect with their teen in order to strengthen their relationship.
If your child has little to say when you ask about school or relationships over dinner, they may suddenly be more chatty late at night when you’re ready to go to bed.
“Teens can be quite private,” said Damour. “They are also organized around autonomy. They want to do things on their own terms. So when we’re the ones asking questions, teens are not always inclined to answer, because in many ways, in those interactions, we’re the ones calling the shots.”
She added, “But it often happens that teens are interested in opening up on their terms. And those terms can sometimes be inconvenient for parents, such as wanting to talk late at night. But given how important the relationship is between teens and the adults around them, we want to try to meet them more than half way.”
It’s necessary to nurture a strong relationship with your teenager, as this is the most pivotal time for building their self-esteem, confidence and sense of independence, benefitting their mental health in the long-run.
Damour said when a parent is already tucked into bed, they may talk less and listen more, and are less likely to ask new questions about new topics. There’s also already a mutually agreed upon cut-off with an easy, “OK, good night!”
“That kind of setting allows teens to connect with their parents, but to feel that they’re the ones in the driver’s seat. And I think that that is kind of the twin objectives for teenagers,” said Damour.
She said that in allowing your teenager to steer the conversation, you’re taking the first steps in fostering your teen’s working relationships with adults. Damour adds that children who have good relationships with adults are usually able to communicate love, warmth and support, and are able to trust other adults when they’re concerned or worried about something.
If you fear your relationship with your teen is straining, there is always time to recover it.
“A parent could say to a teenager, ‘look, we’re having a really hard time connecting. And I’m not going to assume that that’s not something I’m responsible for (or) I at least have a hand in, can you let me know if there’s something I’ve done or that I am doing that makes it hard for us to connect? I’m asking because I want to know, I’m asking because I want to make a right,'” said Damour.
“And if the parent can ask them that way and be non-defensive about the response … I think that’s the kind of conversation that puts things back on a hopeful road.”