I’m worried about my teenage son, who I feel I am losing touch with. He has withdrawn from me and spends so much time in his bedroom on the internet. He is always on the PC or his iPhone or iPad. Is this normal behaviour? Should I worry about how this is affecting him? When I try to speak to him about his attitude and the time he spends online, it always seems to end in an argument, upsetting the family. How do I approach him and am I right to be concerned about him?
Let me set your mind at ease. There is unlikely to be anything ‘wrong’ with him. It sounds like the connection between the two of you has been interrupted and you need to re-establish it. Parents are usually aware that teenage years can be a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride, but very often I find through my work with families, that they are unprepared for it.
Confrontation is unproductive in these situations. Be aware that teenagers can often draw you into a confrontational situation as they are going through a transitional time where they are looking to assert their independence. Instead, why not instigate what I call ‘talk time’? This means setting aside some quality time doing a joint activity that doesn’t involve PCs, iPads or phones.
During this time really listen to and be interested in what your son has to say. Ask open-ended questions that require him to give longer answers about his life, his friendships and how he feels. It’s important for you to understand what is going on in his life, if you are going to help him to deal with it. The danger of not talking is that you become more and more distant. Once you’ve created stronger foundations for your relationship, you can start to formulate compromises and set ground rules that gradually reduce the amount of time he spends on devices. Encourage him to get involved in face-to-face social activities like team sports that will not only improve his fitness levels, but also create a more balanced lifestyle.
Remember, you need to allow your son to make this transition from child to adult for himself. You have the advantage of years of experience, but he is still finding his way. You need to be the supportive safety net when he stumbles.