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Why Teenagers Don't Talk to Their Parents

In my time as a health and physical education teacher, I have been privileged to teach, mentor and guide students through their teen years in many differing ways and in a number of roles.
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Teenager listening to mother speak
Teenager listening to mother speak

Imagine if your son came home from school after spending the day coping with peers calling him names and throwing his backpack. Imagine then if he were to say nothing to you about it, but instead went straight to his room. Would you want him to have the opportunity talk to him about it? How about if your daughter was struggling with her peers pressuring her to take drugs, would you want to know? If your daughter fell pregnant and was frightened about the huge choices she would soon be making, would you want her to be able to come to you for help? If she chose to abort the child, I know you'd want to know about that!

Responding to these questions is confronting and uncomfortable. We would all like to pray and hope that our children will never find themselves in these situations, but we would be naive to think that our children are completely immune from the perils of adolescence.

I've been a secondary school teacher for more than a decade now. I have taught in schools on both sides of the world and at both ends of the economic spectrum. In my time as a health and physical education teacher, I have been privileged to teach, mentor and guide students through their teen years in many differing ways and in a number of roles.

Of course, teaching these students was my primary role and I really enjoy that aspect of my job, but what if I told you that each of the students in the scenarios above chose not to talk to their parents? What if I told you that in each of the cases, the only person they felt they could talk to was me -- their teacher?

Now, don't get me wrong; I am not complaining about the fact that I became a confidante for these students during some pretty harrowing years. In fact, I feel touched and grateful that they were able to find the confidence to open up at all. But, now that I am a parent and have had a chance to reflect upon these scenarios with a different perspective, I realize that the trials of the teenage years are life-shaping to many. I know that if these were my children in the future, I would want them to feel they could come to me when times get tough.

I have since lost count of the number of students, burdened with what must have felt like the weight of the world, who broke down during a conversation after class and confided in me. From friendship issues to relationship concerns, pregnancy scares and drug experiences, these students spoke of their fears, their regrets and their inability to find their way past it.

There were of course times where I was legally obliged to report their stories to my superiors and from there, the children had access to the professional support they needed. But many times, these children simply needed a shoulder cry on; someone to hear them and to understand.

In every case, I queried, "Is there someone you can talk to about this at home?" and almost always, the answer was a resounding, "No!" With rationales like, "They just wouldn't understand" or "They would be so disappointed in me!" coming flooding out with the tears that fell uncontrollably, it often seemed that this realization itself was to them sometimes more painful than the life event they were dealing with.

So, where did their relationship break down? When did it get to the point that these children no longer felt comfortable talking to their parents about their deepest fears, their hurts and their pain? When did their problems get so big that they felt the only person they could trust to talk to about them was their school teacher?

Well, I can tell you honestly that in most cases, it was not because these parents were uncaring, unloving or bad parents. In most cases, it was quite the opposite. These were, in fact, strong, capable, got-it-together parents who would do anything for their children and raised them to have good morals and high values. They were adoring and hard-working and would consider themselves great role models for their children.

I can also say categorically that these children were not "broken" or disconnected children. Many of them were high achievers, diligent, popular and outwardly happy. They cared about their life and had goals and aspirations. They also had a lot of love for their parents.

The problem, it seemed, stemmed from their childhood, where somewhere along the way, they had come to the conclusion that their parent's love and approval was conditional and based on good behavior and achievement.

You see, in a well-intended, concerted effort to ensure their children are raised to be upstanding members of society, many parents use punitive, disconnecting discipline techniques. Methods such as time-outs, removal of privileges, shaming and spanking are among the most common of these methods. These, coupled with achievement-based rewards and praise, unwittingly send the message that with achievement comes love and with misbehavior comes reprehension. This can effectively close the doors for a trusting, honest and communicative relationship with their children into the future.

My time spent with thousands of teenagers over the past decade has had a significant impact on the parenting pathway I have taken. My children are 3 years old and 4 years old and while I know they are some way off from their teen years, I am confident that the way I parent them now will have a significant bearing on how comfortable they will feel communicating to me during those vulnerable teenage years. And you can be sure it will be the same for you.

As my children grow, I want them to know, as I know you would, too, that no matter what happens, no matter what trouble they find themselves in, they can always come to me. I want them to know that I will support them, guide them and love them no matter what.

To create that open, trusting relationship, we need to be mindful of the way we parent them now. It is now that we are laying the foundations for our relationship in the years to come.

We need to admire and respect them for who they are -- warts and all! With unconditional love, support and understanding, no matter how testing the behavior, we must send our children the clear message that not only will we always accept them for who they are, we will always support and help them with kindness and understanding when they are having a hard time. This does not mean we let them do whatever they want. Of course they need limits and guidance, but they need to know that they can always be confident and proud of who they are no matter the shortcomings they may be attributed and we can relay this to them in our interactions with them.

You can read more in the full article here.

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