Friday 22 September 2017

Family Life: How can I get my teenage children to talk to one another?

Brotherly battles: Liam and Noel Gallagher, who had the world at their feet as part of the band Oasis, are well known for not getting on together.
Brotherly battles: Liam and Noel Gallagher, who had the world at their feet as part of the band Oasis, are well known for not getting on together.
David Coleman

David Coleman

Q I am a mother of three teenage children, a girl aged 13 and two boys aged 15 and 18.

The problem is the boys do not communicate with each other. It has been going on for a long time and went unnoticed for quite a while. I think it is unhealthy and I worry about how much longer this situation will continue. I feel they are missing out.

My husband and I have spoken to the boys and we also arranged for them to have a few meetings with a counsellor, but nothing has changed.

Have you come across a family out there who have experienced a situation like this? I would be so grateful for your advice on what to do.

A It can be upsetting to see your children, or in this case your teenage boys, not getting on. To see them having no relationship can sometimes seem worse than to see them in conflict.

At least when children and teenagers fight we know that they are engaged by each other. They see enough value in their relationship to warrant fighting.

No communication at all between them is, however, that bit more poignant. It is as if they have so little connection that their relationship with each other is not important.

Disconnection like you describe can happen, albeit not frequently, amongst siblings. You say that the lack of communication has been present for a long time but you don't give any indication of when it started.

Sometimes the breaking down of the relationship can start when one sibling reaches adolescence and their interests and activities diverge quite strikingly from their younger brother or sister.

There may be no malice in the initial disconnection but as time passes each child develops their own distinct group of friends, interests and, in many ways, separate life.

I wonder if this is what has happened here. Another alternative is that there is some deep-rooted conflict between them that they have long ago decided cannot be resolved and that it seems better to them to stay separate than to try to pretend that things are okay between them. I am intrigued to know what they say about their reasons for not talking to each other and not interacting.

It is also important to understand the root of their disconnection in order to work out the best way to re-establish some bond. Going to the counsellor was either an acceptance by each of them that it might be worthwhile sorting things out or an acceptance that their lack of communication is having an effect on the rest of the family and so it is only fair to you that they try to sort things out.

It is this energy to work things out that you need to continue to tap into. Even if they are only trying to build a relationship again for your benefit, this is a good enough start.

Going to a counsellor is not a solution in itself. It is important that you go to the right kind of counsellor.

Ideally you want somebody who is experienced as a family therapist who can help you all to understand the dynamic of how you interact (or not!).

Getting the boys in a room together can lead to a resolution as long as they are both motivated to work things out.

Their commitment to change is also something that a good family therapist can judge.

Do keep engaging with your sons and continue giving them reasons why it is worthwhile for them to get on better.

Lead your desire to have better communication in the family by example.

Don't give up on them; blood is thicker than water and hopefully they will come to realise that they can be a support for each other as they mature and move out into the world.

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