A Guide on How to Connect with Your Emotionally Distant Teenager
Updated: Jul 14
Takeaway: In this post, I describe the signs your teenager will display when he/she is feeling disconnected from the family, plus specific strategies to connect with your teenager, how to have a good relationship with your teenager, and how to stay connected to each other.
My Teenager is Pushing Me Away
You might notice your teenager tends to go to their room right when they get home from school. Or your teen will simply give you one-word responses at any attempt to engage with them. It’s hard not to take it personally when you notice your teenager is pushing you away. Being an adolescent therapist in Orange County, one of my primary goals is to educate parents on teenage developmental markers. Bringing the developmental milestones to a parent’s awareness helps normalize and ease their concerns. Teenagers pushing away from their parents is part of their typical developmental process.
Teenagers want and subconsciously push for independence. Their biological clock ticks inside of them saying, “Hey! You’ve got to figure out this adulting thing, because you are going to be on your own soon.” A teenager pushing away might look like they are wanting to spend more time with their friends. They might push back on boundaries such as curfew, phone rules and car usage, and engage in risky
Teenagers essentially need to push away from their parents to figure out who they are outside of the family unit. It’s a healthy and normal process for your teenager to gain confidence, increase resilience, learn how to care for themselves, and manage significant responsibilities on their own.
But what if the pushing away strays outside of the normal journey of teens becoming adults. Read on to understand how teens who are extensively pushing away can become emotionally distant with their parents.
The Emotionally Distant Teen
Most teens are overwhelmed with emotions, and they don’t know how to express nor process them. Teenagers tend to internalize their emotions. Usually if something doesn’t go their way, they look at themselves as the problem, asking themselves things like: "What’s wrong with me?” or “I must be bad.” or “I am an awful son or daughter.” Internalizing their feelings is a big trigger in your teenager becoming emotionally distant with others, especially their parents.
Not only are teenagers dealing with the normal urge to push away from their family unit, but the emotionally distant teenager is also now in a state where they are disconnected from family. Teenagers who are emotionally distant are keeping themselves at a distance for a reason.
The reasons why teenagers are emotionally distant could be:
They want to protect themselves from future emotional hurt.
They are overwhelmed with self-criticism or loathing, and they thinking of connecting.
They fear not getting their emotional needs met (ie. support, validation, acknowledgement) and they close off due to the risk of rejection being too heavy.
The tough part is your teenager isn’t going to come out and say, “I need to protect myself emotionally and that is why I am being distant with you.” Since teenagers don’t have those advanced communication skills nor awareness, parents need to look out for the signs that your teenager is disconnected from the family and you.
Picking up on, and being aware of, the signs your teenager is disconnected and emotionally distant from you is the first step in creating connection and bonding with your teen.
Signs your teenager is disconnected from the family and you:
Avoids any chance to talk to you
Says argumentative and passive aggressive comments, making you feel like they don’t want to be around you
Not wanting to spend time with you
Does not respect your limits or directives
Keeps silent and does not engage in conversation
Would rather be with friends over family
Feels annoyed or embarrassed with siblings
Moves away when you attempt to show any affection
Some of these signs are normal and typical for most teenagers. However, it’s important to observe how many of these signs your teenager has. If you notice your teenager is displaying all of these signs, then they are likely feeling emotionally distant from you. Being aware of the signs of your teenager feeling emotionally disconnected will help you guide your teen back to connecting with you. Lots of teenagers who have been emotionally disconnected for a while feel lost and unsure how to reconnect with their parents. All the more reason for parents to initiate connection when you notice your teen is feeling or acting emotionally distant.
How to Connect and Bond with Your Teenager
Connecting and bonding with your teenager is the cornerstone in helping your teenager get through the tough years of adolescence. Your teenager is needing to separate from the family unit to establish their identity. They need to individuate while being connected to you. When parents know how to bond with their teenager, essentially, they are giving their teen a holding space to gain confidence in themselves and cope with life’s stressors and struggles.
Here are three things you can do to connect with your teenager:
Look for the subtle signs your teenager is wanting to connect with you.
Teenagers are all about subtle signs and messages. They assume parents will receive those subtle signs and interpret them. However, most of the time that is not the case. Look for ways your teen wants to connect with you.
o Your teen wants to show you a snapchat or tik tok video.
o Your teen asks you what you are looking at on your phone.
o Your teen sits and watches your show with you.
o Your teen goes into your room to ask you how you are doing.
Communicate with them on their level.
Teenagers might feel more comfortable with communicating via text message, email, emojis, or videos. Instead of forcing them to communicate in a way that might feel uncomfortable or intimidating, take notice of what form of communication they excel at.
Read between the lines.
Teenagers are notorious for not being direct or assertive with what they need from you. For example, if you ask your teen if they need you at their sporting event, they might respond with, “Well, I mean, you don’t have to, if you don’t want.” Which in teen language usually means, “Yes, I would love for you to come and I want you to want to go as well.”
What Can You Do to Have a Good Relationship with Your Teenager?
You will go through phases with your teenager; from connection, to disconnection to repair and reconnection. It’s a journey when parenting a teen. There are going to be ebbs and flows throughout the process. In the midst of the ebbs and flow of connection with your emotionally distant teen, it’s necessary to have a good relationship with your teenager so, connection can be recreated and repaired when need be. Obtaining a good relationship requires that you create a comfortable and accepting environment for the connection to happen.
Here is what you can do to have a good relationship and feel connected to your teenager:
*Be their safe person to discuss ALL topics
If your teenager knows that they can discuss whatever topic they come to you with, that creates safety and a good relationship. It’s not easy to listen to topics that might be considered “cringe worthy” or “too much information.” However, if your teenager acknowledges and knows they can come to you with any problem, concern, or topic then you have opened the door to having a good relationship with your teen. Avoid overreacting and give them calm responses.
Your teen is in the stage of expanding their independence and negotiating their needs. It’s so important for parents to take advantage of this opportunity and allow for negotiations of their wants. Compromising, asking what their need, and negotiating with others are life skills that are incredibly important in the workforce and in adult relationships. Allowing negotiations to happen can help your teenager build confidence, be assertive with their needs, and be aware of limits. Negotiating with your teenager is another pillar in having a good relationship with them. You are validating their opinions and helping them create solutions to their problems.
*Verbalize, “I love you”
At times, parents can take for granted saying the words, “I love you” to their teenager. Some parents I have worked with have said, “Well, of course they know I love them, I don’t need to say it.” My usual response is “Yes, your teen needs you to say it.” Most teenagers know deep down that their parents love them however, they question why their parents won’t verbalize it. It’s important to match your actions of love with verbalizing your love for your teenager. Teenagers are in a constant state of doubt, doubting their appearance, performance, identity, role, and abilities. The most important thing you can do to have a good relationship with your teenager is for them to never doubt the love you have for them.
How You Can Stay Connected
We have gone over ways to spark connection and have a good relationship with your emotionally distant teenager. The next question I usually get is, “Well how do I keep it going?” Parents are often wanting strategies to stay connected with their teenager. Providing opportunities for connection to happen is key in how you can stay connected with your emotionally distant teenager.
Here are three ways to stay connected with your teenager:
1. Have one family meal together daily
Sometimes having a family meal together can be a really hard task to accomplish when you are juggling everyone’s schedule in the home. However, research shows having a family meal together increases self-esteem and school success. Sitting together as a family and enjoying a meal allows the teen and parent to stay connected emotionally. In addition, the sense
of coming together as a family helps teenagers
fight against feelings of loneliness.
2. Keep your cool in times of conflict
When parents go head to head with their teenager (yelling, arguing back and forth, slamming things, etc), you are becoming your teenager’s equal. To stay connected with your teenager, parents have to stay the adult. It is not effective to regress back into your adolescent selves. Teenagers need you to keep your cool and manage the conflict in an adult way.
3. Trust your parental intuition
Staying connected with your teenager means reminding yourself that you are the expert in your child. Follow your gut feeling that your teenager needs to bond with you. Listen to your intuition that says your emotionally distant teen is struggling with something that is more than just normal. Trusting your parental intuition will help you be on the watch for signs and acknowledge the times to reach out for connection to let them know you are there for them.
Your emotionally distant teenager will occasionally be distant from you because they are figuring out how to be independent and still need you at the same time. Be aware of the signs that your emotionally distant teen is struggling with something outside of what is normal. Follow your parental intuition, reach out to connect and bond with your distant teen. Provide a safe and comfortable environment where opportunities for connection can happen so you're emotionally distant teenager doesn’t feel alone in their struggle. It’s always important to keep trying to connect and stay connected with them, because they need you.
Get more in-depth help with reconnecting with your teenager:
At Ashley Hudson Therapy, I help parents and teens heal broken communication and trust by coming together to talk about problems you may be having within their relationship. If you are in California, I provide therapeutic services for teenagers and parents of teens. Schedule a complimentary consultation with me today.
Are you a motivated and determined parent that is ready to get more in depth and build a lifelong relationship with your teenager? Enroll in my online parenting course: The Connected Parent . If you are looking for a sneak peek of the parenting program, get access to The Connection Mini Course for a fraction of the price. You get 4 lessons on how to ignite connection fast with your teenager in less than 1 hour for just $27. Get access today!