Unsettling, threatening and deeply disturbing. I am sure that’s what teen silence does to almost all parents, and I am one of the flock.
My once chatty and cheerful son has disappeared into a shell of silence, where the only occasional sound is monosyllabic. Forced conversations are never easy, specially if it’s with your own child. But, unable to bear the sea of silence I was drowning into, I use everything I can as a life boat.
I broach any topic that my brain can come up with in 30 seconds. Yes, 30 seconds, because I am pretty sure that is the attention span a teen has for a parent. I ask the same questions packaged differently like, “How was your day at school?” No answer. “Did you have a fun day at school?” Maybe a yes or a no for an answer, most likely a no. “Did anything different happen today?” No answer accompanied by a look that says Please stop asking the same thing, Mom! l continue to follow the rehearsed pattern almost like a ritual, hoping that one day it might lead to something—something I call a conversation.
I knowingly touch upon bizarre or clichéd topics for conversation. Something on the news that brings out a couple of sentences in my teen like, “Oh yes! I know about that.” Or, “I saw that in the news, too.” But nothing beyond that. The next try is asking about friends, where I fail again and fail miserably because everyone knows friends are the most important people in a teen’s life. Not to forget, the only “normal” people in their lives, the only people who seem to understand them perfectly.
Then I tried watching YouTube videos, the funny videos that made my teen laugh. I watched them with more attention and focus than anything else and tried to laugh even though I did not find them funny at all. Though there was no conversation, there was companionship and laughter—things I am missing as much as I am missing our old conversations.
I must admit there are few surprise moments that feel like an oasis in a desert. There are times when my teen shares a funny incident at school, a teacher’s comment or bits of text while chatting with friends and when that happens, I am on cloud nine. It feels great to be involved in an actual conversation. I hang on to those fleeting moments like a dying man holding on to life. I might sound overdramatic, but there is no better way to explain how I feel.
As I sulk about fighting a losing battle to having real conversation with my teen, realization dawns on me: the teenage years are a difficult place to be. Rising tempers, mood swings, physical changes, the twilight zone of becoming an adult from a child, it’s quite literally living a hormonal time bomb.
After talking to friends with kids in the same age group and endlessly Googling why teens could grow silent, I have reached a satisfactory conclusion for the time being: my teen is probably wearing silence as a protective shield from being judged. While he rides the roller coaster of teenage emotions and changes, he is unsure how to express himself. My teen is probably peeping into my head as much as I am trying to peep into his, afraid of my reactions to his thoughts and actions. Therefore, he chooses to bottle them up instead of opening up.
And I have recognized it’s not about me. It’s the phase everyone goes through as a child and clearly the most tumultuous phase. I tell myself I must learn to be patient and sympathetic if possible. For now, I have decoded this prickly silence to be the only surviving cactus in the teenage desert.
I have promised myself to stop throwing questions like darts without aim. Instead, I will try to create moments of companionship that might lead to conversation. It does not matter if it’s the conversation I need—it will be the conversation my teen wants to make.
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