The Sullen Teen

Posted: Jan 05, 2010 12:00 AM

Anyone that has ever been in the presence of a teen for very long knows that one of their favorite words is, “grrrmmm”.

I’m not sure what language it is, but they all seem to know it.

When my sons were young teens many of my cheery attempts to connect and communicate with them were rebuffed by the very limited teen vocabulary. My sunny disposition and expectant, “Hi! How was your day?” often resulted in “mmrrph.” “What did you do?” was met with something akin to a growl.

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“Okey-dokey then, I guess I’ll try a different approach,” I remember thinking. Sometimes I responded with my own, “rrrmmmuuumph mrrrmmrrraaa.” Much to his chagrin, this unexpected response often resulted in a smile peeking through the sullen scowl of the annoyed boy creature.

Even my normally joyful and chatty daughter would sometimes turn into a mumbling alien and slink into her room as soon as she walked thorugh the door.

It’s hard not to feel a bit rejected when your eagerness to connect is met with such contempt. But as the mom and dad, pouting and giving up is not an option.

The pop culture tells parents that when children reach their teen years, it’s time for us to “buzz off.” This is a vicious lie.

So with both our teens and society telling us to “just leave them alone”, what is a parent to do?

The comforting news is that it is absolutely normal for your once conversant children to begin to pull away and want to change the way they communicate with you. The reality is that they still need you and still want you – but they don’t know how to let you know that without feeling as if they are being “babies”.

The need for growing independence from mom and dad is the mark of a maturing child. It’s part of the transition from being totally dependent on you to reaching the place where they can leave your home and make their own way in the world. When that time comes, it’s critical that the “young adult” has a solid moral compass and internal road map, and that she knows how to use it. And you are the one, Mom and Dad, that must work hard to help her develop the chart.

The first step is to remember that you are the adult - and it is critical to act like one instead of responding in turn.. You have to love your teen enough to be willing to make yourself vulnerable to rejection over and over again; to keep your temper in check, and to always respond in unconditional love. It is your reaction in the midst of the “mumrruphs” and “umphs”, that will have the greatest impact on teaching him how to communicate properly – or sadly, improperly.

Dr. Bill Maier, noted child psychologist and one of the nation’s experts on teen-parent communications, has written a thorough but short handbook filled with practical ways to communicate with your teen and build the strong relationship that you both secretly crave. “Help! My Teen Thinks I’m the Enemy” is available through and . At 5.99 it’s the bargain of the decade.

While you are waiting for the book to arrive, take the first step by asking your child to sit with you for a few minutes and then openly and clearly declare your unconditional love. Let him know that you are there for him, that you desire to be part of his life, and that you will love him no matter what. Even though he probably will not respond with a flood of stories about his day or life concerns, you will have made it very clear to his hungry spirit and psyche that he is loved and cherished. This simple but powerful step is one he will always remember, and it just might be the foundation upon which a lifetime of successful communication is built.