So your teen is acting moody and distant. That is not unexpected. Your teen may be reluctant to share with you because:
(1) The other parent tells him not to;
(2) He fears it will result in you then confronting the other parent; or
(3) He is experiencing some inexplicable teenage drama that (in his mind) you would never understand.
Sometimes you simply need to just move past his sullen attitude. Try not to let it influence your mood or the way you interact with him. In other words, pick your battles. Most of these little skirmishes are not that important in the big picture. Here are some of areas of concern that arise for teenage kids dealing with divorced parents and a few suggested responses:
- Eating and Exercise. You think your teen is not eating right and is exercising more or less than he should. Rather than confronting your child about it, why not ask his doctor whether the doctor has any concerns? If not, leave it alone. Some of your child’s behavior may be him trying to (Gasp!) impress a girl. In all seriousness, some kids go through a body-image crisis during their early teen years. We hear about this issue more with girls, but it affects both genders. For most kids, it is a phase. If it becomes a medical / emotional problem, that would be the time to take action.
What can a parent do? Use his interest in calories to your advantage. First, it is important to look at the type of calories being consumed. For instance, you may get a lot of calories from nuts and sardines, but the fat in those foods is “good fat.” If the caloric intake comes in the form of well-advertised, crunchy and spicy triangles, that is not so good. Take his interest in what he eats and let him help you plan dinners. If he is working out, look for diets that help build muscle. You may tell him what my son learned at home. No matter how attractive you think you are, a man that cooks (or plays guitar in a rock band) raises his level of attractiveness by several points.
- Social Media. It’s here to stay folks, so get used to it. Like the crunchy, little triangles of addictive deliciousness mentioned above, it is a matter of moderation. If your child’s attachment to the world that lives in his phone becomes addictive, you may have a problem. Dinner is a good opportunity for parenting. Try starting a device-free dinner time with everyone in your household sitting down to dinner together (and not in front of the T.V. either). Don’t use this time as an opportunity to interrogate your child. Let him do most of the talking. However, if he wants to sit there and stir his vegetables in sullen protest about your device-free policy, let him do it. The teenager relishes in the belief (true or not) that he is being oppressed by his parents. Do not feed that belief.
Talk about current events. Yikes! That can be pretty divisive these days, I know. But, you may be surprised to learn that your teen actually has opinions on some these issues. Learn to listen.
- Romantic Relationships. This is dangerous territory folks. All the self-doubt and inferiority that a teen experiences gets incorporated and magnified within this topic. Again, try not to interrogate. If your son mentions a girl’s name in passing, resist the urge to find out all about this girl. And, for goodness sake, do not check out her profile on any social media sites. Your kids will think it is creepy and will think twice about mentioning something the next time.
You may try to relate by comparing your child’s experience to your own romantic past. Unless your child asks you about your past, this tactic is likely to backfire. Your child equates your past with rotary dial telephones (if he even knows what one is). Therefore, your past experiences will likely seem completely foreign and without any relevance to today. This is the time to listen again.
- Responsibility. When parents divorce, there is a tendency of both parents to want to draw the children close. Your time with them may be limited, so you cling to it (and to them). You should certainly make sure they know they are loved. Tell them. Even if they cringe upon hearing those words, “I love you,” say it often.
Loving your children means you must let them grow up. This also means that they will grow away from you. It happens even with teens of intact families. You can’t stop it. Give your children additional responsibilities. Raise your expectations. I do not mean you simply give them additional chores. I am talking about extending their boundaries and giving them some additional privacy and freedom. I can tell you from personal experience, this is hard for parents. However, if your kid sees that you trust him, it will help him trust you. It will also allow him to exercise his social muscles. He may screw up. Let me correct that . . . he will screw up. When he does, point out the action with which you are disappointed. Criticize the behavior, not the kid. Use the screw up as a teaching tool. And then end the conversation on an upbeat. This would also be a good time for you to reaffirm that you love this kid.
Finally, I will channel my inner teen and say what I think he might say about all this. “Dad, just chill.” Not bad advice, actually. He’s a teen, and teens are confounding creatures. Take the good when it comes and try to let the not-so-good stuff pass on by. You want to make your home a safe, comfortable and peaceful space for your teenager. To do that, let him have his secrets and his moodiness. It does not necessarily mean he has any animosity towards you or that the other parent is manipulating him. Some of it may simply be a confused teen (and, I believe they are all confused to varying degrees) needing his space. Let him have it.