Dealing with Your Teen’s Sudden Cold Shoulder
You fondly recall when your teen was a toddler. You two were so close back then. But recently, your teen has been giving you the cold shoulder. She rolls her eyes or sighs deeply when you speak. It seems clear that she thinks you’re a nuisance in her world. What can you do to deal with this situation effectively?
1. Recognize that the root of her behavior is likely the natural maturation and differentiation process that all teens experience. She is becoming her own individual. To do that, she needs to separate her identity from yours. She needs to find her own perspectives, style, and behaviors. Many teens, in order to separate from parental identity, feel that they must find something wrong with their parents’ perspectives, style, and behaviors in order to move to something that may be more to their individual liking. Note that teens will typically try a variety of alternatives before settling on the choices that they feel best express their own unique personalities. Try to keep in mind the transient nature of many of these changes as your teen moves through her sometimes difficult differentiation process.
2. Exhibit a reasonable degree of empathy. Remember when you were a teen and going through your own differentiation process. You may not have rolled your eyes at your mother, but you likely felt some degree of frustration with your parents as you worked your way through your differentiation process.
3. In private, speak candidly and supportively with your teen about the behaviors you’re observing and seek compromise when you can. For example, you may say, “Jeannie, I see you rolling your eyes at me. You don’t care for my conservatism. That’s ok. You’re at an age where you need to be finding your own way. I understand. I was a teen once too. I know you’re trying to figure out what perspectives, style, and behaviors best suit who you are, who you want to be. I know you can’t be a mini-me, and I need to let you find your own path. So, I’ll give you the space to do that. If you need any help exploring your alternatives, please feel free to speak with me about that. Oh, and we need to find compromise on subjects where we have differences that are important. In the case at hand, I hear you saying that your 9:00 p.m. curfew is ridiculously early. You’ve said your friends have a midnight curfew. Each family has to set their own boundaries as they see fit. In this family, we have historically had early curfews to keep you safe. However, I recognize that you are getting older, and a later curfew may be in order. So, let’s compromise to 10:00 p.m. If that goes well, then maybe next year we can move it to 11:00 p.m. Can we agree to that?”
4. If your teen’s behavior steps significantly out of line (i.e., she starts yelling at you), then you must take a more redirective response. For example, you may privately say, “Jeannie, I know I frustrate you sometimes, but it’s not ok to yell at me. I never intend to frustrate you; my intent is always to love and care for you. Sometimes, that business of caring for you causes you to feel hemmed in. I am sorry for that, but I have a responsibility to you, to use the information and perspective that comes from 25 additional years of life experience to help you ward off difficulties in your life. When you are feeling frustrated with me, it’s ok to tell me so . . . but it’s not ok to yell it at me. It’s important to learn to control your emotions. Small children have emotional outbursts; adults should be mature enough to address their feelings more constructively. The next time I frustrate you, please take a moment to decompress and then tell me that you’re feeling frustrated and why. You and I will then work to resolve whatever difference is at hand. In the meantime, to respond to today’s incident, I’d like for you to go to your room for 15 minutes and think about what is upsetting you and how we can realistically solve the problem. I’d like for you to have two possible resolutions that we can discuss when you and I visit in 15 minutes. Ok?”
5. Note that #3 and #4 above both are private conversations. If a differentiation-rooted conflict begins with others present, you may say (in a polite and friendly manner), “Jeannie, I just heard the clothes dryer buzz. Would you help me get the laundry out of the dryer and folded, please?” Then, take Jeannie to the laundry room or other private space before having a conversation such as is referenced in #3 or #4 above.
6. Once the conversation is held, monitor your teen’s behaviors and follow up as needed. For example, you may say, “Jeannie, I’m so glad that we are doing so great at finding compromises here lately! Thank you for working with me on that! I’m so proud to be your mom!” or “Jeannie, are you yelling at me? Please don’t yell. Please go to your room and think about our difference of opinion here. I’ll look forward to your two suggested resolutions in 15 minutes.”
7. If the problem persists after multiple redirections, you may need to ask for help from outside resources. If your teen is close to her grandmother, it may be helpful for grandmother to be present when a conflict arises. Grandmother can then visit Jeannie in her room during her 15 minutes of think-time and talk to her lovingly and supportively about constructive problem solving. If a trusted family or friend resource is unavailable or unsuccessful at achieving the desired outcome, a school counselor or other professional is your next best option. For example, if you decide that you and Jeannie could benefit from counseling, you may say, “Jeannie, I love you so very much, and I’m worried by the frequency with which we’ve had conflict lately. I don’t know how to resolve our conflicts now, so I think it’s time to admit we can’t do this alone. There’s a counselor here in town that does a great job mediating between parents and teens. She’s not on anyone’s side: she’s a neutral third party. Her job is to help us communicate better and find resolutions to our conflicts. When I pick you up from school on Wednesday, we will head to our first appointment with the counselor. You may want to prepare by making a list of the things I do that make you feel frustrated or upset and how you’d like me to move forward in a manner more to your liking. That way, the counselor can get a feel for what our challenges are and perhaps get a feel for the possible resolutions.”
By following these tips, you can effectively deal with your teen’s sudden cold shoulder.
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