Step-teenagers and the silent treatment

It was the game he played whenever John acted as someone with more authority than a roommate who fed Sam and paid all the bills. Instead of fighting his father, Sam would just keep his mouth shut and react as if no one were speaking to him at all.
“I don’t think he can hear you,” I said in bewilderment the first time it had happened. Sam remained tightlipped and calm while his father reddened in the face, repeating several times what he had said. It had been dinnertime then, too, the only time Sam was ever around us. Other than mealtimes, he would lock himself in his room with his videogames or hang out with his friends until moments before it was time to eat. I had been dating John for just a couple of months, but I was beginning to see that Sam was fighting against any kind of parental control. He wasn’t a bad kid, and as far as I could tell he wasn’t rebelling in any major way. He just didn’t like to be told what to do.
On this particular occasion John was merely asking him what his plans were for the weekend. We all sat in silence as we waited for his answer, and I thought I saw just the hint of a smirk as he got up to put his plate in the sink. Beside me Joey ate his dinner as if nothing were amiss, though he watched in silent curiosity to see how things would unfold.
“Sam, your father is asking you what you are up to this weekend,” I said to him. Sam looked at me with a calm demeanor, as if I were a child who didn’t understand the way things worked.
“I heard him,” he said.
“Then why aren’t you answering him?” I asked. “Are you mad at him?”
“No, I just don’t feel like talking,” he said, and he turned to walk out of the room before anyone could say anything else. – Excerpt from A Symphony of Cicadas, Chapter 9, pages 117-118

Being the parent of a teenager is frustrating. But being a stepparent to a teenager? Sometimes it can be downright painful!

When I first became a stepmom, I entered into completely foreign territory.  My kids hadn’t yet reached that stage of teenage rebellion, so witnessing it from my stepson was a bit jarring. And beyond that, the kid had so many quirks and habits I wasn’t used to, mostly because I hadn’t raised him and instilled my own quirks and habits in him. We came into each others’ lives at a time when he was just finding his own way and exerting his independence. And I didn’t know how to deal with it.

One of his most aggravating tools of power was to completely ignore us whenever we spoke to him. It didn’t matter if he was asked a simple question, he would give us the silent treatment without any reason at all.

It was infuriating! (I wrote about it in my family blog, you can read it HERE)

I wasn’t sure what I had signed up for. I didn’t get this kid, and he certainly didn’t get me.

Thankfully, we were eventually able to bridge the gap between us as we got to know each other. But it took a lot of time, and effort.

First, I had to get over my fear of him. I mean, he was just a teenager. If something wasn’t working, I needed to be able to speak up instead of silently stewing and just labeling him as difficult.

Second, I had to try and understand him more. What made him who he was? What other things were going on his life that might translate into animosity at home? How would I feel if my parents split up and some woman came to live there with her kids? It took a lot of trying on other shoes to get where my stepson was coming from.

Third, we needed to find a connection point – something we could both relate to that would help us understand each other more. For us, that became a love of running. I had just started running again. While I resembled more of the tortoise than the hare, it was something I grew to enjoy. My stepson took the initiative to ask if he could join me one day. And we both ran the whole route together. Soon, running became OUR thing, and we’d wait for the other to hit the pavement. Of course, my stepson possesses a natural ability for running. It didn’t take long for his skill to far exceed mine. He joined the track team and can now run a 4-5 minute mile. I’m quite happy when I beat my usual 10-minute mile. 🙂  But despite our differences in skill, this opened up our relationship, giving us many more things we could connect on.

When it came to writing A Symphony of Cicadas, I had to include the difficulties that exist in raising a teenager, and capitalize on what it’s like to raise a stepchild with all their foreign habits and quirks. My stepson’s use of the silent treatment to push our buttons was such a fascinating display of exerting his control of the situation, I used it as one of Sam’s tools of power.

This is just one of several posts to come that dives into the chapters of A Symphony of Cicadas, and the inspiration behind the story. For all sneak peeks at the novel, CLICK HERE. To purchase the book, go to

Stay tuned for more!

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  1. Pingback: He’s leaving home… | Crissi Langwell

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