Erika asks: How do I encourage my 13-year-old son to open up to me and consider me as his best friend?
Hi Erika –
What a great question this is! I assumed I’d already answered it on this website, and I haven’t! So thanks!
Okay, your question has two parts, and I need to deal with them separately. First, how can you get your son to open up to you.
What I don’t know is whether he used to open up to you or not. It’s very normal for kids around 13 years of age to stop being as open with their parents as they used to be. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s just the normal development of teenagers as they start pulling away from their parental ties, building stronger ties with peers, and putting more effort into self-definition. In fact, it’s overall a good thing that a kid of that age isn’t too open with his parents. But of course, you do want him to feel able to talk about anything he wants to discuss with you.
The best way to achieve that is to change the way you talk with him. To tell him that now that he’s 13, you’re going to treat him with more respect. This would be a great time to start talking to him about more things – yes, I mean you being more open, if possible. Talk with him about the problems you’re having in your day-to-day life (appropriate ones of course). Even ask his advice about some things. And most of all, work harder than you ever have to listen. Try to show him that you’re not just an authority figure, but that now you can be a support to him too. Be there for him when he makes mistakes, and encourage him to see them as positive learning experiences, as much as possible. And these things, together, will probably help him open up more.
But now, onto that second part. This is what will hurt, and I’m sorry. You have a 13-year-old son. He needs you to be a parent. He can find a best friend other places, but you’re irreplaceable. Maybe you two were best friends when he was six, and that’s a wonderful memory you should treasure forever. And maybe you’ll be best friends again after he’s 20. But right now, it’s actually unhealthy for him to be best friends with his parents.
He has to grow, he has to pull away (clumsily), so that he can become the adult he needs to be. It’s great for you to be friendly, absolutely! You can be supportive and loving and fun and funny and nurturing and all that. But you need to be ready for him to want to go out with other friends his own age. And you need to not feel that, when he does, he’s betraying you. He’s not. He’s actually honoring you, and the important and difficult work you’ve done as a parent.
This is tough for everyone, Erika. For the parents who can’t wait for their kids to get out of the house, and for those who want to stay close. Teenagers are fun, exciting, bright, wonderful, unique people, who are awesome to watch. But they aren’t what you can count on, in the way you can children and adults. And if you try, you’ll just get hurt.
So love that son, and support him, and yes, encourage him to open up more. But be a great parent, and don’t ask him to be your best friend. By holding yourself back on that, you’ll have so much better a chance of having a great relationship with him later!
Thanks for such a great question,