One of the most common questions parents ask me about their teenage child is, “Is she normal?” They are usually concerned because their child, who used to be talkative and cheerful at home, is now surly; she answers questions with as few words as possible and no longer wants to participate in family activities.
Conversations go like this:
“How was school today?”
“Did you learn anything interesting?”
“Do you have homework to do tonight?”
“What’s happening with Maria these days?”
At home, their child stays in his bedroom most of the time and acts like he is very unhappy. The same kid at school hangs around with a lot of friends and constantly laughs and makes jokes. He eats lunch with five or six classmates and is an active participant in extracurricular activities.
No one knows for sure why this happens, but the hypothesis is that teens are beginning to seek independence from their parents. They want their peers to think that they are totally in control of their lives and don’t need their parents any more. They are preparing for the day when they will be leaving home and be completely on their own.
Understanding why teens do this doesn’t make it easier. Parents want to know what is happening in their child’s life, and one word answers aren’t helpful. They want to know their child is happy and has friends.
I encourage parents to ask questions that can’t be answered with one word. Here are some conversation starters:
“What was the most interesting thing that happened today in school?”
“What is your favorite movie of all time? Why do you think so?”
“Why do you not like your math class?”
If your teen seems surly and unhappy, it is very likely that he will eventually start talking to you again. In the meantime, keep an eye on his activities. Talk to his teachers and coaches to make sure he seems happy at school and has friends (or at least one good friend). Most of the time, what you see is normal adolescent behavior. If you should find that he is unhappy at school, too, you may need to seek the help of a professional for advice. You will need to figure out the source of his unhappiness and make a plan for how to get him back on the right track—the insolent, quiet child who is driving you crazy at home track, that is.