We know increased needs for privacy are part of normal teen behavior. Quiet time is also a crucial part of self-care for highly sensitive people (HSP). When does too much alone time become a cause for concern?

Even for sensitive teens, long periods of isolation from the family are abnormal. This may include a breakdown in communication, routine lying, and hiding things. Why doesn’t my teen feel like they can talk to me? What exactly is going on?

Watch your tendency to jump into “fix it” mode.  We don’t want to push your teen away with over-eagerness. Be curious of your teen’s experience and mindful of your own reactions. Examples of validating probing questions:

+ Is this a good time to talk?
+ Can I ask you some questions?
+ Tell me more
+ Help me to understand
+ Is there anything I can do to help you?

Your teen may need time to open up about how they are feeling. Be patient and try not to take it personally. Remember to practice validation and avoid dismissing statements. Examples of invalidating statements to avoid:

– Stop being so dramatic/sensitive
– It’s not a big deal
– It could be worse
– You think you have it bad…
– Life isn’t fair

If I can’t fix their problem, what can I do?

Open up the lines of communication. Provide a consistent safe space for your teen to talk. Listen without judgment or trying to fix it. Use validation whenever possible. Allow your teen to create and test out their own solutions to their problems. The core reason your teen is withdrawing is unique to them and their experience. And likely complex, with many overlapping factors. Getting them to open up is a huge step.

Why do people withdraw?

When we experience a perceived threat, our fight, flight, freeze response activates. Our body prepares us for action by sending signals throughout the brain and body. We experience these as emotions, physical sensations, thoughts, action urges, and behaviors.

When we are in flight or freeze mode, this urge is often to avoid or withdraw. In the short term, this is useful for escaping real danger. Over long periods of time, over aroused nervous systems can lead to many ailments. This includes vast implications in both physical and mental health.

The cure:  Connection. Social engagement is vital to feel safe and oriented to our environment. This is because connection with others deactivates our fear response. We are able to experience feeling grounded, compassionate, mindful, and curious.

How can we find a balance?

Not too much and not too little. Remember that daily quiet time is essential for HSPs and that privacy is critical for teens. Encourage your teen to find a balance by setting their own routine. Don’t expect (or encourage) a big shift all at once. Shaping behaviors can be effective to maintain them long term. Reinforce your teen when they do emerge from their room by smiling or saying something encouraging. Do what works for your teen.

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This blog post was written by Sarena Ferguson, LGPC.  She co-leads our Sensitive Superhero Group for young children and leads our Sensitive Superhero Group for middle schoolers.