When teens shut out a parent, it’s time to talk

July 5, 2011

Q. I am frustrated because my kids, 16 and 18, are good, responsible people but they want almost nothing to do with me. I try to give them their space, but in return they give me one of their “How dare you?” looks when I get home from work, just for asking them how they spent their day. I really don’t think they should treat me this way.

My son, a junior in high school, works on the computer a lot, and my daughter, who has just finished her first year of college, either works at her part-time job or hangs out with her friends. After being away for a year, however, she is used to doing whatever she wants to do, whenever she wants to do it, which presents another problem: We don’t know how much freedom we should give her when she’s at home.

This is the first time in eight years that neither of my children is going to an overnight camp, so they’re both at home the whole summer. I really had hoped to enjoy this time with them, but they have no time for me.

A. Your son and daughter need to know how much their behavior is hurting you.


Instead of asking about their day when you come home, tell them that you are calling a family meeting and then ask them whether they would rather have it on Saturday at 11, Monday at 5 or after dinner Tuesday. And when they ask you what the meeting will be about, just say that you’ll tell them about it when you get together. They’ll show up out of curiosity, if nothing else, and they’ll want to stay if you’re as honest with them as you want them to be with you.

Tell them that you ask them how they spend their days only because you love them and miss them when you’re at work, and because you’re interested in their news, activities, ideas and friends. And tell them that you had looked forward to their company so much this summer but that you’re not getting it and that you can’t bear how they have shut you out of their lives.

They’ll probably insist that they’ve never done such a thing and that they’re sorry you misunderstood them, but underneath it all, they’ll know that they’ve been self-centered and they’ll be embarrassed. This alone should make them act a little better for at least a little while.

You also need to ask them why they’ve been so dismissive of you and why they don’t like to tell you how their day went. To your surprise, they may tell you that you talk down to them or that you’re always telling them what to do. If they say that, you have to start talking with them as you would talk with your intellectual equals. If you are a friend to your children, as well as a parent, your children will be friends with you.

You’ll also get along better with your daughter if you let her keep setting her own boundaries this summer, just as she did at college last year, but ask her to give you a good-night kiss when she comes home, so you won’t wake up and worry about her whereabouts.

You should also ask your children to do some volunteer work, either with you or for an organization, because a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old should be helping others as well as themselves.

If you have an elderly person living in your neighborhood, they could offer to put light bulbs into fixtures she can’t reach without a ladder, drive her to her next doctor’s appointment or go to the grocery store for her. An easy job for a teenager can seem almost insurmountable to the elderly.

Your children, singly or together, could also round up friends to pick up litter in the park every week or two, or one of them could tutor a grade-schooler who has spent more time thinking about his parents’ divorce than homework.

This volunteer experience will not only teach your children to empathize with others — and with you — but it will make them compare their own good luck with the dwindling fortunes held by the elderly, the poor, the troubled and the needy. Sometimes it takes a dose of reality to turn a child’s behavior around.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com

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