Dear Harlan: My 15-year-old daughter is giving me and my husband the silent treatment. She is furious. It started with her cellphone. I went through her text messages, and she saw me doing it. We have an agreement that I can look at her messages; this has been the understanding since she got her smartphone. I have looked through her messages in the past without incident. We pay for the phone, so we should have access to it. It’s important for my husband and me to have a sense of who she is associating with. This time, she saw me going through her text messages and lost it. She said she is sick and tired of me invading her privacy, and questions how she can trust me if I don’t trust her. She is strong-minded and has a history of making questionable choices. It’s hard to know what is happening in her life. We have a therapist to help us connect with her, but it’s not helping. I’m at a loss. Any suggestions? — At a Loss
Dear At a Loss: Silence is how teenagers torture parents. They flip the “silent” switch when they don’t feel like they are being heard. They can do it when they want space to reflect and chill out (this is normal developmental behavior). They may go silent when they are dealing with mental-health issues and don’t know how to connect or cope. Your job is to figure out if her silence is about being heard, chilling out or dealing with something more serious. The best way to do this is to listen. Listening doesn’t have to be a conversation. It doesn’t mean doing what she wants. Listening isn’t proving that anyone is right or wrong. It’s figuring out the best way to connect even if you don’t have answers. The other day, my daughter was really upset with me after I changed plans at the last minute. She was disappointed, tired and frustrated. I asked her, “What do you want me to say?” She replied: “You should know what to say. You’re the dad.” I told her: “I’m still learning. We’re both learning. I need your help, especially as you get older.” She didn’t know what she wanted. So, we just sat quietly. It was my attempt to listen. Too many teenagers tell me that their parents don’t listen; they don’t feel heard. Listening doesn’t have to include words. It can mean being present, affirming, sitting, doing something together and connecting in ways that don’t involve talking. Check out “The Five Love Languages of Teenagers,” by Gary Chapman. Different children receive love differently. Connecting with your teen includes understanding how she receives love. Different people receive love in different ways; how you feel loved, appreciated and understood may be different from how your daughter does. Figure out if her love language is words of affirmation, physical touch (back rub, hugs, etc.), quality time, acts of service or gifts. Use this text-message debacle as a starting point. Make it a group session with the therapist. Give her a safe space in which to speak and be heard. Don’t make it about being right or wrong. Instead of defending your actions or using your authority to justify what you did, listen. You checked her cellphone because you want to feel more connected with her. Explain this to her. My opinion: Your daughter’s silence is a scream for help. Once she feels she is being heard and understood, things will get better.