Subscriber OnlyYour Family

It’s becoming difficult to keep in contact with my 13-year-old son

Ask the Expert: My son doesn’t want to stay every second weeked with me any more

I am a separated father and have one son who will be 14 in December. After a challenging time when we first separated, his mum and I now get on well and both of us are in new relationships.

I live a good bit away and the routine is usually that my son stays over with me every second weekend and I phone him two to three times a week. The trouble is that it is becoming more difficult to keep the contact with him. He doesn’t talk as much as he used to and sometimes he is reluctant to come to the phone.

Last week he even said he didn’t want to come for the weekend. He said he doesn’t want to miss his football which has started back every week. I, of course, understand this, but it is the only time I get to see him. When he was over for the last weekend, he wanted to play his video games all the time, complained of being bored and would not even go out for a walk with me.

I know it might be to do with the age he is at, but I am not sure how to respond.


His mum says he is been difficult for her too.

When children become teenagers, they often pull back from their parents and become more interested in their peer group. You might have been used to parenting an open child who was interested in spending time with you and then you are suddenly confronted with a private or moody teenager who is embarrassed going anywhere with you. While this is a normal part of growing up and usually settles as teenagers get older, it can be hard to experience as a parent. The important thing is not to take it personally and rather understand it as part of the bumpy road as your son moves to independence.

Staying involved and connected

It is important to remember that despite the front they put up, teenagers really need their parents to stay involved and connected with them. While your relationship might change, your son still needs the interest, affirmation and concern of his father.

Staying connected with a teenager can be particularly challenging at the best of times, and it can be particularly challenging as a separated father when your teenager does not live with you. The key is to be flexible and to readjust your communication as circumstances change. What might have worked in the past, may not work now and you might have to explore new ways of staying connected.

Adapt how you communicate with your son

If the current routine of phone calls is not working, consider how you can vary this. Perhaps there is a better time of day when he is more communicative. Some teenagers are more open later in the evening and some are open in the morning. In addition, lots of teenagers find phone calls challenging as a means of talking and are much more confident communicating through social media. Consider using WhatsApp, Facebook, texting and other forms of social media to stay connected. I have worked with many parents who have much more open communication with their teenagers via these channels.

Connect around his video games

Many parents see video games and screens as the enemy to communication, but sometimes they can be an opportunity. Consider getting to know his video games and even joining in. I know many separated parents who stay connected to their children via online games and activities even though they might live far apart. You could set aside a regular time daily or weekly to play online.

Consider varying your son’s visits

It is important that you maintain your fortnightly visits with your son but there may be ways you can change these so they work better. For example, you might be able to change the time or days that allow your son to attend all of his soccer or you could change the routine of contact so you can travel up to him to watch his games and spend that time with him. Finding a regular activity that you both enjoy when you meet is a great way to keeping connected. Rather than suggesting a walk at the weekend, perhaps you can vary this to something more appealing such as going out to watch a local football team or even simply taking a walk to the local takeaway to get a curry together.

Talk things through with his mother

Arrange a time to talk through the issues with his mother. The fact that she is dealing with something similar gives you a chance to support one another as you think how to sort things out. Discuss with her what might be going on for your son.

Are there particular challenges in school work or with friends that he is going through that you might need to know about? Listen to what is going on in her house and how she is dealing with his behaviour there. She may have some ideas as to how you can stay connected with him and you may be able to support her manage whatever challenges she has. The fact that you can work together as co-parents is a real asset in sorting things out.

Dr John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD school of psychology. He is author of several parenting books including Positive Parenting and Parenting Teenagers. See