Got a Teenager Who’s in a Bad Place and Who Won’t Communicate?

Taking Advantage of a Window of Opportunity

I have received calls from eight parents in the past week who are very worried about a teenager or young adult child who is withdrawn, depressed, non-communicative and sullen.

I was a practicing psychiatrist for 40+ years with a subspecialty in suicide prevention. I am retired from clinical practice, but if you Google “mark goulston suicide,” you’ll see that I am actively involved in educating and helping parents, counselors, coaches, teachers who are worried about a teenager or young adult who is in a dark place and am part of several documentaries (see below).

What I want to share here is what you as a worried parent can try with that teenager or young adult, when they are slightly open to having a conversation and you have a window of opportunity.

When such a moment occurs, try saying or texting the following to them:

“Hey (honey, kiddo, etc.), when you have a moment, I’d like your help with something, and I’d really appreciate it if we could speak for ten minutes.”

Hopefully that will at least trigger their curiosity. Then when you have the chance to communicate say the following:

“Thanks for making the time. What I’d like your help with is that going forward, I want to be a better (mom/dad), and my most important role and responsibility in being that is doing everything I can to help you land in your future and especially to make it through the rough times, like what you’re going through now. The last thing I want to do is annoy or irritate you, so going forward* and from your point of view what should I do and what should I not do.  And talk to me as if I am clueless, because I am, and tell me as best as you can what those behaviors look like. For instance, and this will sound stupid, if you say, I should listen more and talk less, which is probably true, what does that look like? Finally, after you coach me on this, can I check in with you at least every couple weeks, or you choose the least annoying interval, for you to tell me how I’m doing and how I can do even better?”

* Much appreciation to Marshall Goldsmith for the “going forward” approach who has wisely observed that many people become defensive when you bring up something from the past, but when you focus on the future before anyone has messed up, you might just get them to be more open to you.

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