There has been a sudden change in our teenage son’s behaviour. He now locks himself in his room and has become very secretive. His interest in his studies has dropped. He says nothing is wrong but we as parents don’t agree and feel he is not sharing his thoughts.

When children finally reach their teen years, it’s certain to be a time of transition and change for them. This is normal and should be expected. It can also be a frustrating and confusing time for the whole family – this is often less expected. Your son will be going through changes in the way he feels and in the way he looks. These are the mental and physical transformations that will, in part, influence who he will ultimately become as a fully-fledged adult. So, this process is more than occasionally filled with obstacles and bumps in the road along the way.

Some teenage traits are frustrating yet are normal. However, his dropping school performance and his becoming overly secretive is cause for concern. As parents, it’s your natural instinct to protect your child and care for him whenever needed. However, as a teenager, he’s beginning to figure out this process all on his own – so now the challenge is identifying where you need to step in and where you don’t. While he may be saying ‘nothing is wrong, and everything is fine’, actions do tend to speak louder than words.

He may say one thing, but his demeanour and school results say another. Therefore, you are correct that something is not quite right. I suggest avoiding forcibly trying to extract information from him; this will make him recoil. Instead, focus on creating an environment where he can open up to you more. Allow him time and allow him space to come to you. You can subtly ‘steer’ him back towards dialogue by engaging him in conversation and activities which aren’t specifically study- or attitude- related. By making it known you’re not just a parent but also someone he can trust for advice, he will slowly begin to open up. Applying too much pressure can push him further away again.

When your son does begin to open up to you more, watch out for other tell-tale signs of the wider issues at play. He may say something completely out of the blue or he may tell you exactly what is wrong straight out, but either scenario would be a fantastic step in the right direction. However and wherever the conversations are held, it is your response to them that can make all the difference. Stay calm and remain interested in what he’s saying; after all you’ve worked hard to get him to engage so it makes sense to listen. Avoid overreacting or becoming angry. You’ve created the trust and it is important to maintain it. Be proactive, be encouraging, and most importantly be there for him. By sustaining a positive and open approach he knows he can rely on you for advice and help.

If you find the situation deteriorating further or no tangible progress is being made, it’s worth finding someone else for him to talk to outside of the immediate family, be that on a casual basis or via a professional. Talking to, and receiving advice from, beyond the family often gives a completely different perspective which can make all the difference.

Russell Hemmings is a life coach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting. Contact Russell on 055 286 7275 or