The New Silence Between Parents And Teenagers

07/14/2016 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

It is common for parents and teenagers to have some trouble communicating. Remember when teenagers went to high school, attended classes, socialized, went to after-school activities, visited with their friends and came home? In the afternoons and evenings, they might rush through dinner, close themselves in their rooms, stay on the phone and play video games to all hours, but parents and kids would talk in person, at least briefly.

How Parents and Teenagers Communicate These Days -- Or Do They?

There was indeed a lot of silence between parent and teen in the past, but something new has happened. Some parents and their teens aren't talking in person, they aren't talking much at all. They are texting and emailing throughout the day and even at home!

There may actually be more numerous contacts between parents and teenagers but less actual communication. Instead of assuming teens can function all day on their own, some parents are now texting about assignments, schedules, and weekend plans.

While their kids are, hopefully, trying to pay attention in class or at camp, some teens are receiving texts from parents. The kids hide their phones under their desks or quickly reply from camp and try to rejoin their peers.

The parents aren't the only culprits, of course. Teens text parents all day, too, with requests and complaints.

Are Parents Becoming More Involved in the Details of Their Teenagers Lives?

On the surface, it seems as if parents and teenagers are too frequently monitoring each other. Do they really need to know each others' whereabouts at all times? Is this replacing teenagers learning how to take care of and rely on themselves full school days at a time? Do the parents trust their kids less? Do the teens trust themselves less?

What About Real Communication?

Whereabouts, schedules, and routines have practical value. But what about talking about feelings, intentions, goals for the future? I'm not suggesting parents aren't interested in listening or that teenagers aren't interested in talking. I think both parents and teenagers deep down want to talk and listen to each other a great deal. But this other technological communication fills up so much time that it may be getting in the way.

What Should Parents Do? Five Communication Tips

Tip #1: Be Respectful
In my experience, when parents are openly respectful of their teens and let them know they want to hear their ideas, opinions, and philosophies of life, adolescents readily rise to the occasion.

Tip #2: Take the initiative.
Your first try may be general, asking your son or daughter, "So. What have you been thinking about lately? What's up?" This may end in a surprised look and a curt reply. But it's not a dismal failure; it's a start.

Tip #3: Persevere. Add more substance.
The next try, add a bit more: "We haven't talked much lately. How are things going?" Slowly ask questions with more substance. Maybe ask them about their politics, their music, their friendships.

Tip #4: Open up the conversation by asking for more detail.
It's so easy to slip into closing the door on conversations. Don't jump into disagreeing or being critical. Instead, ask for more information.

Tip #5: Say Thanks.
Tell your teen you're grateful for the talk and hope you'll speak again soon.

2016-07-12-1468341359-6005748-Quote1.jpg
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius and wherever books are sold.