Despite what kids believe, their main support system is not within their friendships. As a parent or counselor, you can allow them to believe their friends are their support providers. However, their fellow 14-year-old friends are not equipped with the maturity and understanding to help them with the big problems. Kids need a sounding board–a connection with their family to help them with feelings of depression, anxiety, fear of failure, and other related concerns.
Before trying to help your child “open up” emotionally, remember it’s developmentally appropriate for them to close you off to some degree. They are developing a sense of self and individuating. They’re more private with their friendships and getting them to engage with you means they need to trust you and your intentions.
Developing this dynamic is best done on the teen’s terms. It’s not going to happen the way the parent wants, unless they adapt with some new strategies and shift expectations. There’s a payoff with this approach, because teens will learn they have a source of guidance and unconditional support—two critical elements of getting through the teen years safely and positively.
Find the right time and place
Parents wanting deeper conversations with their kids need to set aside enough time. Don’t pop into your teen’s room and say, “Hey, let’s talk!” if you only have five minutes. If they open up to you and then drop a bombshell, but you have to go on a Zoom call in a minute, then you’ve wasted the opportunity. Avoid the “big talk” when you can’t both be present and in a clear state of mind. If either of you are stressed or angry, then you need to find another time to chat.