For parents and teens alike, life is busy. It can be difficult to find the time to spend together having meaningful conversation. As a parent, you might think that you are able to talk to your teenager enough and that you have a good relationship. Your teen, however, might feel misunderstood or ignored. Read through this list of signs that you might not be listening to your teen as well as you think you are.
#1. Your Teen Is Often Frustrated
Frustration comes with the territory of being a teen. Your son or daughter is trying to become an adult, but there are still a lot of limitations on what he or she can and cannot do. They likely have a list of things they’d like to do, but they have to go to school, do chores, and follow the house rules. Some of those rules don’t make sense to your teen. For example, he or she might not understand why you don’t let them play video games all evening, every evening or why you don’t allow them to be a passenger in a car driven by a newly licensed friend.
Just like they did when they were toddlers, teens often take out this frustration in the form of tantrums. Rather than throwing themselves on the floor and screaming, however, they tend to slam doors, roll their eyes, and stomp around. When this happens, you can often alleviate some of the tension by listening to your teen. If your teen seems to be frustrated on a daily (or hourly!) basis, it’s possible that you’re not spending enough time listening to them in a non-judgemental fashion. Although your teen might not like the rules and restrictions in place, knowing that you are available to listen and negotiate on some of them can reduce their frustration level.
#2. Your Teen Has All New Friends and You Don’t Know Why
Another red flag that you’re not listening to your teen as well as you should be is if they have joined a new social clique and you weren’t aware. It’s normal for teenagers to try out different friend groups, particularly during times of transition. Going from middle school to high school, for example, is a time when a lot of young teenagers find themselves with a new group of friends. If your son or daughter joins a new sports team or joins the school play, they might end up with a new group of friends. Try your best to get to know some of your child’s closest friends.
If your teen suddenly seems to have dropped all of his or her old friends and has a new peer group, however, it’s important to know why. While sometimes it can be a simple matter of growing apart, you should know about it. Sometimes, drastic friend changes can point to a substance abuse issue. Other times, it can turn out to be social anxiety or some other mental health condition. Talk to your teen to find out who these new friends are and what happened with the old ones.
#3. Your Teen Has Gained or Lost a Lot of Weight
Drastic changes in weight should be brought to the attention of your teen’s pediatrician or family doctor. In some cases, it can be a physical issue that needs medication. For example, if your teen’s thyroid is not functioning properly, he or she might gain or lose weight. Of course, if your teen has recently joined a sports team, they might lose some weight as they become more active. This can be normal and healthy unless it’s excessive.
Other times, however, a weight gain or loss can indicate an eating disorder, depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition. If you notice that your teen has suddenly gone up or down several clothing sizes, it’s time to start asking some questions. Are they eating properly? Do they have any symptoms of depression or anxiety? A check-up by his or her primary care physician can be followed by a referral to a mental health counselor if needed.
#4. You Are Surprised That Your Teen’s Grades Have Fallen Dramatically
Another red flag that your teen might not be listening to your teen enough is falling grades. If your teen is struggling in one or two classes, that can be a normal adjustment to a demanding schedule or a more difficult class. If he or she has gone down more than one letter grade in all (or almost all) of his or her classes, however, this is worth investigating.
Causes of falling grades can range from depression to drug use to simple trouble with time management or too many obligations. If you don’t know why your teen’s grades have fallen, a frank talk is in order. You should also meet with your teen’s guidance counselor to discuss your concerns, and if you are worried that there might be a mental health issue or drug use, make an appointment with your teen’s doctor.
#5. You Feel Like You’re Not Talking to Your Teen Much
As a mom or dad, you know that little voice that tells you when something isn’t right. If your gut instinct is telling you that you’re not spending enough time with your teen or that you’re not talking about anything more serious than what’s for dinner, it’s time to make a change. Ask your teenager how he or she feels about how much time you spend together. Also, try to come up with open-ended questions to ask your teen. Use current events or television shows to spark conversations that can tell you more about what your teen is thinking. You could even look for a list of questions designed to get kids and teens talking.
In order to start listening to your teen better, try to engage in active listening. This is when you repeat back what has been said in your own words and refrain from giving judgement while your teen is talking. Learning to communicate effectively with your teenager can be a challenge, particularly if your teen is somewhat reserved or secretive, but it will be worth the effort if you can improve your relationship, reduce your teen’s frustration levels, and enjoy this stage of your child’s life.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.