Breaking Teenage Barriers

How I got my teenage son to talk to me again.

“Well, what do you advise that I do at home?” a pleading father probed. It was parent teacher conferences and he wasn’t the only one asking for advice at home. But, I’m not the parent. And I’m not the expert. I’m just the teacher. However, it’s caused me to reflect.

It’s true I’ve had six children survive the teenage years in my home and number seven just turned 13. But I still don’t feel like I have all the answers. First of all, each child is absolutely unique and what works for one doesn’t work for others. I place a lot of stock in parental intuition, doing research, and thinking outside the box.  

At least, that’s what I’ve relied on as a parent.

With one of our sons it had become a stormy and turbulent yet simultaneously silent time. Despite family dinners little was exchanged and mostly bickering with siblings and parents ensued. If it wasn’t negative then it was a few grunts followed by a retreat to his room. Occasionally we would have a conversation over sports but it could easily erupt into an argument.

Desperation settled in as I tried to figure out a way to re-engage my son. I talked to other parents, researched, and meditated. Finally, an idea came. I had to meet him on his turf: in a video game.

But how to propose such an idea so that he’d buy into it?


The time came during a conversation with his sister about mother/daughter time and he was curious, clearly feeling “left out”. My proposal spouted forth,

“Do you want to play a video game with me?”

He couldn’t believe it. “Seriously?” After all, I was always insisting he shut down the video games.

“Yes, a game for two people”

He immediately knew what to do and sprung into action. Within 30 minutes I had purchased and downloaded the game “Portal” onto my computer.

The next night a new tradition was born.

For those of you who don’t know, in Portal you can engage in a two-player game in which the team solves a series of puzzles (loosely based in physics) together. It is impossible to proceed unless both players actively play a role in the solution. So, one player can’t do all the work while the other follows.


Furthermore, you take on a robot avatar for the entire game.

We’d play 30-60 minutes together every night or ever other night, depending on his schedule. My son was in his element explaining not only the game to me but also how to use my computer to manipulate my robot. He erupted into contagious laughter as my robot ran into walls and fell off cliffs. His robot would beckon me (literally its hand would be waving at my robot) and he would say, “Mom, come this way”. He guided me, he encouraged me, he taught me. Eventually I figured things out and we actually reached a point of problem solving together. “That’s a good idea, Mom. It might work” was music to my ears! We had so much fun together. Often, after the game we’d talk about life, his day, current events, or ideas. Our portal game became an essential part of our evening.

We solved the puzzle together and then continued on with different activities within the game. But what we really gained was a restored relationship.

I think back on different ways I connected with my children: a knitting class, bike rides, exchanging self-written poems and stories, dog walks, or playing soccer. With each child it was so different. And what worked for me didn’t necessarily work for my husband. For example, the knitter enjoyed Saturday matinees with Dad while the writer participated in local theater productions with Dad. Thus, in no way do I feel like I have the answers for others.

My advice? Dig deep down into your heart and ponder how to reach your child. An idea will come and then simply act on it. I had no idea how amazing the video game idea would be but I was willing to try.

It’s never too late! And it’s always worth it. Just reach out.

My family now.