Does your teen hang a “Go Away!” sign on his or her bedroom door? Does he or she consistently refuse to participate in family activities? Does he or she remain silent when you ask questions? In this article, I’ll advise parents on how to get reconnected with isolated teens and conquer your teen’s loneliness in a world that pulls parents and teens apart.
First, What Does Teen Isolation Look Like?
It’s normal for teens to want some space from parents or siblings. It’s normal for teens to want to try things on their own, seek out independence, attempt to make their own decisions. But the “new normal” is an unhealthy trend for teens to isolate themselves for long periods of time, engulfed by entertainment on a device consumed by themselves, avoiding contact with their family. When a teen suddenly stops doing what they once enjoyed, abandons their friends, skips school, or refuses to get out of bed, your teen needs help. All teens long for meaningful relationships and companionship, but they need to learn how to make those connections.
There Are Dangers to Ignoring Teen Isolation
While some time communicating online with friends is okay, your teen also needs to put the phone down in order to have a well-balanced life––to experience communication face-to-face. Allowing unhealthy isolation to continue in your home will not only damage your relationship with your teen, it will also negatively impact your teen’s future life, career, and relationships.
Find out what’s motivating your teen’s isolation. The reasons will determine how you can help. For example, some isolation is a teen’s response to bullying. Some isolation is a reaction to tension at home. Some isolation is because of laziness. Some isolation is a teen “giving up” due to anxiety, fear of the unknown, or seemingly unreachable expectations. If your teen is shutting down, you need to push open the door and help your child to better understand the core issues behind their retreat. And if your teen is struggling with depression or trauma, you need to get help from someone who is trained to help teens struggling with these heavy issues.
Reconnecting with an Isolated Teen
Getting reconnected takes time. You need to spend time together, even if your teen has been silent for a long time. It’s your job to clearly communicate your desire to spend time together. Schedule a time to get a bite to eat and leave the phones at home, even if at first you need to require his participation. And be consistent. Make time together at least once a week. Then, when you’re together, ask engaging questions––questions that seek to find out the heart of your teen. If you could change one thing at school or at home, what would it be? What can I do to help you and I have a closer relationship? Remember, it’s not an interrogation, so don’t ask: How much time did you spent online? What are you doing in here? Your goal is to get your teen to open up. You can give your perspective, but be careful not to spend all your time sharing your opinion. It’ll shut down your teen’s words. And if your attempts at conversation routinely lead to arguments, then stop constantly correcting your teen and pointing out where he went wrong. Instead, you ask questions and listen. That way you will better understand what he believes and why he believes it. These conversations are the key to drawing your teen into a more meaningful relationship where you will have the opportunity to offer your wisdom.
If your teen is giving you one-word answers, then it’s time to get creative! Consider a reward for better communication. Tell your teen you’ll continue to pay his cell phone bill, as long as he gives you answers that are at least 20 words long. Then count the words! You’re training your teen to move out of childish conversations and engage in adult communication. The reason they don’t do it now, is that they’ve either never been taught how to, haven’t been required to do so, or Mom and Dad do all the talking and they’ve never been pushed to exercise this life skill. So if your teen is avoiding conversations, then it’s your job to train them to engage well.
Hey moms and dads … your teen more than likely believes that this world is the worst it could ever be because that’s what they hear and it’s the only life that they’ve been exposed to. Their inadequacy of being prepared to live and function in their world quickly turns to worry–– which is misuse of one’s imagination––then to fear, then on to anxiety, which turns to panic––a terror that they are certain they cannot overcome. It’s a tough spot to be, where your teen feels the world is crushing down on them. So, they find a retreat from those pressures and disconnect and isolate to find peace amidst the conflict. It’s your opportunity to share perspectives of the world that help them understand that much of their fears will pass, that you were there to walk with them, and then this turmoil they feel will soon be over. It’s not a time just to share opinions. It’s an opportunity to give perspective.