How to Show Up for a Teenager who Wants Nothing to Do with You

It can be extremely challenging for parents when their precious angel children no longer seem to need them or even want to be around them. What is a parent to do when their child wants nothing to do with them? 

By Momentous Institute | Jun 29, 2021
Teenager Nothing To Do With You

One marker of adolescence is the shift in the role of family and friends. As kids develop into teenagers, they begin to lean into peer relationships and lean away from family relationships. It’s developmentally appropriate for them to rely more on their friends than parents. But that doesn’t make it any easier for parents! It can be extremely challenging for parents when their precious angel children no longer seem to need them or even want to be around them. What is a parent to do when their child wants nothing to do with them?

First, try not to take it personally. It’s not you, it’s them. Teenagers are living in bodies that are changing before their eyes, with hormones pulsing through them, new social pressures and school changes all while trying to figure out who they are and how they fit into the world. With all that going on… mood swings, annoyance or irritability with parents may be less about the parents and more about any number of those other factors.

It’s also important to consider that just because teenagers don’t seem to want you around, that doesn’t mean you’re not needed. Sure, they don’t need you to pack their lunches or organize their social calendar, but they still need you in a different way. What teenagers need from parents is a stable presence. With all the changes in their world, a stable, consistent, safe adult who loves them is the most important thing you can provide for them.

Teenagers do best when they have a safe, comfortable home base. As they go out and explore the world, having a stable base to come back to gives them the chance to safely navigate the complexity of the teenage years.

So while your teenager may ask you to drop them off a block away from school or may slap you away as you lean in for a forehead kiss, it’s important to remember that you can be a strong, safe presence in other ways. What worked when they were in elementary school may not work anymore, and that’s okay. There are other ways to show kids you love them and support them. Consider these ideas.

Be physically present.

So often, parents say, “My kid won’t talk to me!” It’s normal for a teenager to not respond to questions such as, “How are you?” or “How was your day?” They may want a bit of privacy and may not be interested in telling you about their life. But being physically present means spending time with them where you’re not scrolling through your phone or watching TV, and just creating space for them to talk on their terms. If your kid is into video games, you can sit in the room where they’re playing and just observe or ask questions about the game. If your kid is into K-pop videos on YouTube, you can look over their shoulder and chime in rather than taking out your own phone. Consider evening walks, weekly coffee dates or sitting in the backyard after dinner with no distractions and create space for your teen to talk if they want to.

Don’t bring your own agenda.

During these times of presence, don’t come in with a hundred questions. Don’t have expectations that your teen is going to tell you everything that’s going on in their life after one coffee date. And don’t respond to anything they share with follow-up questions to get more information. If your teen tells you about a party, for example, you might ask, “Who was at the party? How many of your friends were there? How did you get there?” or other light questions instead of, “So was there alcohol at the party?” If a teen feels that you have an agenda, they’re less likely to open up to you.

Minimize criticism.

Teenagers are very sensitive to criticism (remember that list of things they’re dealing with above?!). This means that anything that even seems like criticism might cause them to shut down. Comments about their clothes, body, friends or anything else that feels like a reflection of who they are can be very damaging. Teens who have a sense that their parents are critical of their choices or, even worse, their identity, are less likely to open up with their parents.

 

In the end, parents can keep their eyes on the prize. The goal is to build and maintain a safe, stable home base as teenagers go through life’s changes. If they seem to want nothing to do with you in the meantime, stay the course. They’ll come back around.