Me: How was school?
Me: How was your test?
Me: How was baseball practice?
Me: Want pizza for dinner?
It’s fine. They’re fine. Everything’s fine.
Except, of course, that’s not entirely true. Details about the math test they aced (or bombed) are revealed while they’re brushing their teeth before bed. Long-winded stories about who’s crushing on who and what so-and-so said during history class and what they really think about their football coach come out while driving to the dentist or the way home from a friend’s. And you find out after you ordered pizza that they didn’t really want pizza at all.
It’s not that teens and tweens don’t talk to us anymore; it just has to be on their terms, in their way, on their timetable. In the meantime, they can seem closed off and silent, like they’re intentionally ignoring us with their sighs and eye rolls and endless barrage of “fine”.
What’s a parent to do? Well, annoying as it is, not a whole lot. So much about raising teens is waiting things out, being “potted plant” parents, and letting them come to us without pushing them too much. That said, here are a few suggestions for dealing with a case of the “fine”s:
1. Avoid returning the eye rolls with more eye rolls.
Yeah, I know. Easier said than done. I’m the queen of passive-aggressive reactions (which I’m told are really just aggressive) when my kids shrug off their chores or blow me off. But experts say that this just escalates the situation and can cause your teen to withdraw even more.
2. Normalize their feelings.
One of my kids really struggles with a case of the Mondays. Every. Single. Week. We hear the same moaning and groaning without fail. Instead of brushing him off – because we’ve heard this song and dance a millions times – I’ve been trying to validate his feelings more.
3. Do things together.
Instead of talking, try doing. Go to a baseball game together. Window shop. Grab a cup of coffee. Sometimes your kid will open up when they are doing something they enjoy, but even if they don’t, you’ll be spending time together.
4. Pick your battles.
If constant nagging to clean their room causes your teen to withdraw, maybe let it go. Instead of pushing them to study for their math test, maybe just let natural consequences play out. Instead of chastising them for spending their allowance on another lip gloss that’ll just get thrown on the bathroom counter, maybe let it slide. This isn’t saying we should be pushovers or that we shouldn’t have boundaries, but sometimes we need to step aside, close our mouth, and just wait things out.
5. Try “Botox Brow”.
No, this isn’t a new skin care regime. It’s a term coined by Michelle Icard, CNN in the Press of Atlantic City to refer to replying with an expressionless face when your tween or teen does something that really gets under your skin. This seems impossible to me considering my facial expressions usually speak for me, but if this works for you, go for it.
6. Don’t talk; just wait.
Instead of pressing for more information and asking a litany of follow-up questions, just let their “fine” hang there. Stay present and available, but don’t press. Chances are, they’ll open up when they’re ready. If they stay closed off not just conversationally, but physically too, or their lack of communication becomes alarming, it might be helpful to a mental health professional.
7. When they do talk, listen. And that’s it.
This is another one that falls into the “easier said than done” camp, especially when the talking comes hours after they should be sleeping or when you’re racing out the door to meet some friends for dinner. But knowing that you’re available to listen is really important – not just for teens, but for everyone. But even more than being available, try your best to just listen – without offering advice – and see where the conversation goes.
Bottom line: As frustrating as they are, the “fines” are normal. Your relationship with your teen or tween isn’t broken or damaged just because they stop talking to you about everything or because they retreat to their room after dinner instead of snuggling in for a tv show. They are just changing – and so is your relationship.