My teenager is so uncommunicative. I have a hard time knowing whether he’s doing all right or if he’s depressed. If I pressure him to talk, he shuts down and retreats to his room. How do I keep the lines of communication open, and not have him feeling pressured by my questions?
Well, your son is right on track developmentally. Most teenagers do this, so unless there are other signs of depression, it’s quite normal. Your son is becoming his own person, and part of that process involves learning to work things out for himself. Respect this behavior, and accept the message that he’s giving you to back off and let him increasingly live his own life and make his own decisions. In a few short years he will be on his own as an adult, and it’s important that he gets ready for this by relying less on his parents.
It’s really important to respect your son’s privacy at this age. This includes physical and emotional privacy. Physically, let his room be his own and don’t enter it without his permission. Don’t comment on his clothing or hairstyle. Emotionally, don’t pressure your son to talk. He’ll talk if he wants to. Talk about neutral topics, like sports or politics. Or talk about your own life, not his. Don’t ask him how his day was, how school is going, whether he has his homework done, and so on. Just hang around him in a non-threatening way, so that he can talk if he wants to. Watch TV with him. Drive somewhere with him; kids this age tend to talk more easily if they’re side by side, like in a car, rather than face to face. Play board or computer games with him. Develop a relationship of enjoying things together rather than interrogating him about his life. Keep the “lines of communication” open, but let him rather than you make the phone calls on those lines. If you do this, you may find he gradually begins to talk about his life.
And, when your son does talk about his life, don’t give advice, even if he asks for it. Listen empathically, and if he presents a problem ask him what he has considered doing rather than making suggestions. He is living in a different era and a different peer group from the one you lived with, and your advice may not work in any case. But more important is the fact that he needs to learn to work things out for himself. Don’t make any kind of evaluative judgments of his ideas, even positively. Teenagers are really sensitive to evaluation by their parents.
It’s really hard for us to watch our children, who have been so open with us, withdraw and begin to keep their own counsel. But it’s a sign of developing maturity, a sign which must be respected and appreciated.