Your little girl has always been close with you, but right around puberty, she started closing herself off. It’s natural for teenagers to behave more independently, telling you less and spending more time with their friends. But you can still develop a close relationship with your teen if you make time to listen patiently.
Carve out a regular time to hang out with her. A recent study cited by the Child Development Institute showed that many teens are worried about not having time with their parents, so don’t let your daughter feel that way. Have a regular family dinner, drive her to and from school, or plan a special mother-daughter/father-daughter trip.
Start with easy questions. Most teens don’t want to walk in the door and have to answer heavy, anxious questions like “Are you having sex?” or “Are your friends doing drugs?” Just ask her how school was, how her friends are doing, and what her plans are for this weekend. Then work your way up to the big things, if she’s comfortable.
Affirm that she can talk to you about anything. For the teenage girls interviewed by Oprah.com advice columnist Elizabeth Berkley, hearing that they could talk to their moms about anything helped them to open up. If she’s not talking to you much today, you can say “Just know that I’m always here to listen if you want to talk.” The girls interviewed said that even if a teenager doesn’t seem to acknowledge your words, she’ll appreciate your availability.
Listen without judgment. When you say that she can talk to you about anything, you have to make good on that promise by not flipping out when she says things that might be hard to hear. Berkley’s informants said that even subtle negative cues, like raised eyebrows, made them steer clear of opening up, and a full-blown parental freakout will ensure that she’s wary of talking to you about the big things again.
Don’t give her consequences for the things she tells you. Even if she tells you a story about a mistake she’s made, you shouldn’t tell her that she can come to you with anything and then punish her for sharing. Discuss the moral implications of her decisions with her if you need to, but don’t ground her for her past actions. It’s better to stay focused on the present and what she could do differently in the future.
Share your stories with her. Teens in Berkley’s article felt closer with their mothers after hearing that the teenage years were tough for them, too. If you behave as though you’ve always been a perfect, responsible adult, your teen might be afraid to open up about mistakes. Share your vulnerabilities with her to make her feel more comfortable.
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