Dear Your Teen:
Our family has been a very active outdoorsy family over the years and both our kids have been gung-ho about it, but this year our 12-year-old daughter suddenly screeched to a halt. She no longer wants to be involved in anything with the rest of the family—she would rather hide away in her room. She used to be the first one off the high dive and now she doesn’t even want to go swimming. What happened? I have asked about doing family things that she wants to do and her reply is basically, “I don’t know” or “Nothing.” We realize that she may be entering a teen phase, but does anyone know how to navigate it and is there another side? Our son, who is two years older, never went through this, so it is baffling. Thank you!
When a Teen Doesn’t Want to Spend Time with Family
While it’s a common trend among young teens to withdraw from prior activities, you do want to make sure there is not more to it in your daughter’s case.
To determine if this is more than her attempt to separate and form her own identity, first try a conversation about how she has been feeling. Many parents find that their kids share the most while riding in the car, nonchalantly talking in front of a TV show, or at bedtime. I would ask about her mood, friendships and worries. If you don’t get anywhere yet your intuition tells you there is more, reach out to a trusted adult friend or family member or a school counselor to find out if she is upset about something or facing depression or anxiety. Other signs of these disorders include change in affect, appetite, sleep, energy, academic functioning, interests.
Once you have moved past the concerning possibilities, I advise the following. Remember this is a normal aspect of a teen’s development, even though, as you have seen in your own family, not every teen goes through this phase.
1. Give Advanced Notice
In order to increase participation, first, I would include your child in planning. For example, “We are going to go on a hike next weekend, is there a day or time that you prefer?” I recommend this because often times parents have to learn that their child will begin to make her own plans and needs more notice about family activities. Also, you are showing respect and increasing the likelihood she will join in.
2. Decide What is Non-Negotiable and What is Not
Next, prioritize events and communicate your priorities in advance. For example:
“We’re going to Grandma’s Sunday, and we need you to come.”
“I know it may not be your favorite thing, but going to your brother’s play is non-negotiable.
“My college roommate is coming for lunch this weekend and she’d love to see you, but it’s optional. Let me know if you want to join us.”
It’s also good to explain: “We understand you want more time to your self now that you are older, and we will give you a pass when we can, but we will let you know when it’s not okay to opt out.”
3. Look for Activities Your Teen Will Enjoy
Lastly, don’t push a singular activity, as you might create more resistance to it. Find activities that your teen enjoys and join in.
What I see most often in young teens is that they behave as though they want less attention from their parents. Nonetheless I advise parents to still be around as much as possible, because the teen still needs you there — at a distance, and on-demand.
Wendy Moyal, M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with the Child Mind Institute.