Jan Faull, MEd, on how parents can get their teens to open up to them.

Mother Talking to Teenage Daughter with Yellow Background

Part of Their Development

Q. My teen often answers questions with one-word answers. It makes me feel distant and estranged from her, though she's a great kid and has great conversations with friends, from what I can tell. Should I be worried?

A. It is not unusual at all for teens to speak to their parents with one-word answers. "Where are you going?" "Places." "When will you be back?" "Sometime." "Who will you be with?" "People."

But your final response should be, "I need more information."

That being said, the days of your child bounding in the front door with the details of her day are over. She's breaking away from you so that she'll eventually be able to stand on her own as a young adult. Peers bridge the gap between dependence on parents to becoming a full-functioning independent adult. That's why she talks nonstop to peers but not to you.

Many parents wish their teens could sidestep this attraction to peers, but it's not part of the developmental plan. You couldn't stop your 2-year-old from having temper tantrums and you can't stop your teen from relying on peers and go back to relying on you.

Some parents mourn this loss of their child's closeness. Of course you miss those conversations and friendly interactions. Once your child moves out after high school and establishes herself confidently as a young adult, she'll come back for easy conversations and even ask for advice. But in order to determine who she is right now, she needs to separate from you.

Keeping Her Safe

Your job, however, is to keep her safe -- and that requires knowing where she is and who she is with. It's okay to press her, and insist on knowing her whereabouts. Let her know clearly that it's not because you want to dominate her life and control her; it's because it's a safety issue for family members to keep track of one another. Understand that she probably won't say, "No problem, Mom." She's more likely to huff away.

But let her. To be compliant and agreeable equates to dependency. And teens are not necessarily doing their developmental homework when they're sweet and pleasant.

Lastly, when she's home and sits down to eat a meal, sit down with her. Don't pump her for information, but open up to her about your life. Tell her of a juicy incident at the office, let her in on a bit of family gossip, explain an outrageous piece of news. It's complimentary to teens that you see them as old enough to be in on a few intimacies of your life. Although there are no guarantees, by letting a teen in on your life, she just may let you in of hers.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com, and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, February 2005.

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