Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here on this one, and assume you mean more than what appears to be usual teenage “angst”.
By “angst”, what I actually mean is that your children, when they reach a certain age, need to start forming relationships with people that aren’t their parents. This is essential to their development, as they need people in their lives that can teach them new things, share new experiences with them, and give them an opportunity to confide in them, to learn who to trust and who not to, to develop integral relationships that will create the very foundation of who they are.
Yet, unfortunately, this idea of children creating new social circles, and, as they age, confiding in their friends more and their parents less, is condescendingly categorized as “angst”, as opposed to a child’s flourishing independence.
I’m assuming when you say that your child won’t talk to you, you mean something that has become more ingrained and more serious. As your child could have suffered a trauma, I want you to consider if it’s just them not confiding in you, or if their actual behaviours have changed. If this is something that is of concern to you, please follow this link.
However, I’m going to assume you mean something a little beyond your child developing normal social friendship circles, and something less serious that isn’t the result of a traumatic incident.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t one you’re likely to like: The truth is, there’s a good chance that the reason why your child is no longer confiding in you is because either they feel they can’t trust you, or because they’ve told you, and you haven’t been listening (which will also link back to “they can’t trust you”, because they can’t even trust you to listen).
I know you might not like hearing it, but it’s a universal truth we all need to acknowledge: Often, the other person has told us what the problem is, and sometimes we dismiss it.
Maybe we dismiss it because we don’t think it’s that much of a problem.
Maybe we dismiss it because we’re busy, and rightfully so (we can’t always drop everything).
Maybe we dismiss it because we don’t understand the problem, and as a result, have made no effort to understand the problem (just because something doesn’t appear to be a problem to you, doesn’t mean it’s not a problem to the other person).
There can be a hundred reasons – some just, some less so – why we’ve brushed off someone’s confidences, and sometimes we can do it so easily, we don’t even realise we have dismissed the other person.
However, I’ll tackle a problem that’s never-ending in our society (though I really love Miley Cyrus’s recent comments on “not reproducing with Liam”), and something that I’ve faced excessively: Having children.
My husband’s parents are probably the biggest offenders of such a thing. They’ll state that it’s okay if my husband doesn’t want children, in the same sentence that they’ll state how devastated they are that he’ll never know “real love”.
They have varying versions of this sentiment, but like with roads to Rome, they all lead the same place: You cannot say you’re supportive and understanding of a situation, event, or experience if, in the very same breath, you’re telling that person how it’s wrong, or sad, or how they should feel about it. That isn’t support, empathy or understanding.
Now, my husband’s parents could one day understand the gravity of what they’re saying and why it’s such a problem, but that also brings us to the point that you asked:
When your child stops speaking to you.
Eventually, when we aren’t heard, or we’re ignored, dismissed, or patronized, it creates a cavity of despair and mistrust. What’s the point of speaking, when the other person isn’t hearing what you say?
And once one topic is dismissed, sometimes more topics can easily fall wayside, especially if the other person is losing confidence and faith in the ability to confide in you.
If your child came to you crying about a fight they had with their friend, and you laughed and you said something like, ‘Oh, one day you won’t even remember what’s-her-name’s-name and think this is just all silly’, or ‘When I was your age …’ but don’t actually empathise with how they’re feeling, or even acknowledge that it might be painful, regardless of their age, were you listening?
Or were you focusing on what it would be like one day?
Because the “one day” hasn’t happened for your child yet. Whatever your child’s problem is, they need you to listen, empathise and understand.
In my experience, in almost all matters – not just concerning parents and children – sometimes we already have the answers; the problem is, we just weren’t listening when they were given.
I would sit down with your child, and if there is a significant problem you’re aware of, address that, but otherwise, just simply say, ‘I feel as though we’ve been really distant lately. I’m worried it’s because I haven’t been able to spend as much time and listen to you as much as you deserve. I was thinking we could do _____ at ______ and we could talk as much or as little as you’d like.’
The important point here isn’t to make the other person immediately confide in you – it’s to ensure that you are a warm, trustworthy, empathetic parent a child can feel safe opening up to. It’ll also mean that if you have been dismissing your child, your child might give you a response that you can work with.
Remember: You’re a parent, not the child’s confessional. You need to trust your child, allowing them their independence, privacy and space; as well as ensuring you are someone that your child feels that they can always turn to.
In Emergencies: 000
Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14
MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78
— Sources —
Bachelor of Education: English and History
Diploma in Criminology and Profiling
Diploma in Forensic Science
Background in law and psychology
Teacher 7+ years
Background in special needs, learning support – other specific teaching fields that required hands-on development.
NB: This is a declaration of the background of my personal knowledge, collected over the years via a professional form of education and development. Some of these take the form of actual degrees and others come in the form of necessary professional development. When doing your own research, you should always try and verify the person’s credibility. My credibility, nor anyone else’s, is not with their education. Everyone has biases and no one is infallible. I am deliberately including some of my background education to highlight this, because you should be questioning the information you are receiving.