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How to Reconcile With Estranged Teenagers

by Janet Mulroney Clark, studioD

When parents become estranged from their teenage child, both parties struggle with hurt and anger. Teenagers may become withdrawn, or they may openly lash out, rebel and behave in ways that are dangerous to themselves or others. Underneath the sullen exterior, however, teenagers do want to have a good relationship with their parents. Parents who are willing to work at it can reconcile with their estranged teenagers.

Examine your own role in creating the situation. An overly critical attitude is the cause of most problems with children, according to Dr. Benzion Sorotzkin, adolescent psychologist and author. Children who are criticized too much feel they are a disappointment to their parents. They will either try to be perfect or give up and rebel.

Talk with your teen about the situation. When you can see the part you have played in the estrangement, go to your teenager and admit your mistakes. Ask her to forgive you, without bringing up her faults in the matter. A sincere request for forgiveness softens hearts.

Find new and positive ways to communicate with your teen. Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo, authors of "Reaching the Heart of Your Teen," tell parents to give their teenagers a steady diet of encouragement. Tell them what they are doing right and what you appreciate about them. Likewise, Dr. Sorotzkin tells parents to compliment the small positive steps their children take, acknowledging that change takes time.

Know your teenager's love languages. Gary Chapman's best-selling books on "The Five Love Languages" explain the five different ways people show and feel their love: encouraging words, acts of service, gift-giving, quality time, and physical touch and closeness. It is vital for parents to show love in the way that is most meaningful to their teenagers.

Create happy family times. Ezzo suggests several ways to build family support. Share one meal together each day and make it a pleasant experience. Read together, perhaps choosing a faith-based book, a classic or a biography of an inspirational person. Have a weekly family night and play board games, watch movies or eat pizza. Allow teens to help plan special family times, such as family nights, parties or trips.

Keep the lines of communication open. Christine Carter, Ph.D, a sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, offers suggestions for how to influence your teenager. She recommends parents listen to their children, express empathy, ask open-ended, non-judgemental questions that encourage teens to open up, genuinely appreciate their participation in a discussion, and help them make a behavior plan if they express readiness to make a change, such as to earn better grades or to resist peer pressure.


  • "Rules without relationship lead to rebellion" -- Josh McDowell, author and minister. It's important not to try to sidestep the hard work of rebuilding a damaged relationship; if teens see their parents aren't sincere about changing how they relate to them, they will be hurt and become rebellious or withdrawn.

About the Author

Janet Clark has written professionally since 2001. She writes about education, careers, culture, parenting, gardening and social justice issues. Clark graduated from Buena Vista University with a degree in education. She has written two novels, "Blind Faith" and "Under the Influence." Clark has received several awards from the Iowa Press Women for her work.

Photo Credits

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