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For parents of adolescents and teenagers, chances are you have experienced moments where you felt disconnected from them, where it was obvious to you that your child was enduring some form of adversity, but for whatever reason, felt it necessary to keep you out of it. 

It can be easy for us to chalk this up to normal childish behavior; a desire for kids to have privacy and independence from their parents. However, the reality is that we may be playing a larger role in this dynamic than we realize.

Why Could This Be Happening?

1. When a situation occurs for our children, they tend to become emotionally and physically drained by it. It can be all consuming for them. So when we begin to ask questions, it can be difficult for them to reopen that door and relive every intricate detail of that experience. Truth be told, as parents, once we get our children talking, we don’t want it to stop – so the questions continue. By the time we have acquired sufficient information and understanding, our children are even more exhausted, emotional and depleted. Out of self preservation, sometimes our children simply respond to us with an “I’m fine.

2. Our children are worried about the negative repercussions associated with the event. More times than not, emotionally charged situations that occur in our children’s lives are tainted with some mistruths, poor decisions and defiance against what they inherently know is appropriate and permissible behavior. So to let you in on what is occurring would mean to also become vulnerable to the possibility of you picking up on those more negative, intricate details of the story. And what would happen once you do? Chances are, you may focus on implementing some disciplinary action due to their behavior, and from their perspective, ultimately detract from the purpose of the conversation at hand.

3. Under that same umbrella lies another concern for our children – the fear that we will pass judgment on the people in their lives. If they tell us a story about a friend or significant other that portrays that individual unfavorably, we may possibly maintain a negative image of that person forever. Their fear lies in the fact that this altered perception will impact our decision to allow them to spend time with those specific individuals in the future.

4. Although it may not seem possible that our children are capable of thinking outside of themselves, the reality is that much of their withholding of information can stem from their fear of how it will negatively impact us as their parents. Children sometimes face extremely painful and dangerous situations alone because they don’t want to burden us with more than what we already have on our plates. Why would they assume we are stressed? Chances are, our words and actions reflect that truth – when we openly talk about the demands of work, household responsibilities, obligatory tasks that must be completed – all within earshot of our children – we unknowingly present to them that we are overwhelmed with the daily tasks at hand, and may not be equipped to take on any additional burdens.

5. Whether we realize this or not, children may recognize our tendency to minimize their responses. Quite often, we initiate conversation without being fully present or invested in the interaction. In the car after picking our children up from school, while we are looking at our phones, cleaning the house or making dinner – chances are, we are engaging in dialogue without dedicating the time and energy to hear the response. As a result, our children become very aware of the fact that even if they do open up, we may not be present enough to truly listen to what it is they are saying.

6. Fear that the conversation will not remain confidential. Children are extremely observant. They see how often we talk to other people and how intimately we share information with friends and other family members. So they are acutely aware of the fact that by opening up to us, they become more vulnerable to the possibility that what they share, will not necessarily stay within the confines of that conversation.

It may be difficult as a parent to hear these realities, and we may initially be in disbelief that we would ever be capable of acting in this manner. However, if our children are not letting us in, it is our responsibility to reflect on what behaviors we may be exhibiting that could potentially impact their willingness to communicate. 

The most effective communication occurs when our children feel truly heard. When we take the time to establish a platform that guarantees our presence and willingness to listen. Before asking questions, make sure that distractions are put away and that you have the time and energy to engage in this dialogue. Remain calm and simply listen to all that they are willing to share. Try your best not to react impulsively – in this moment, your child is letting you in to a vulnerable moment in his or her life. What they need most is for us to reaffirm their strengths, validate their emotions and provide support as they navigate through the ups and downs of adolescence.

Chances are, situations will continue to arise. They will need to know that they can come to you – that you can remain present, keep it in proper perspective and be there as their port in the storm. 

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If you or your child are in need of additional support during this time, we are here to help

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Nikki P. Woods, MSW, LCSW

Nikki Woods is a highly-sought after licensed clinical psychotherapist and founder of the Navesink Wellness Center in Rumson, New Jersey. After earning her Masters Degree at New York University, Nikki dedicated her career to studying the intricacies of the developing female mind. In her practice (both locally and globally), she empowers mothers to better support their daughters’ development, and assists young women in channeling their own voice – one built on self awareness, acceptance and love.

Her intuitive and insightful approach helps clients gain a greater sense of self worth, pursue life goals, improve relationship dysfunction, establish a more defined identity, and celebrate their own unique assets and capabilities. Her work has been featured in top publications such as Forbes and Inc. She works with patients both locally in Rumson, New Jersey as well as globally via her remote psychotherapy offerings.