Many parents experience such dramatic changes in their child between the ages of 11 — 14 that they feel like an alien has taken residence in their home! When a child goes through puberty and enters the adolescent years, the physical and emotional transformation can cause parents to lose confidence in their ability to set boundaries and stay connected. The mood swings can be extreme, the withdrawal can be infuriating, and your child’s rejection of family life while having an extreme focus on peers can be hurtful and alarming.
But if you stay focused on what your child’s job is at this developmental stage, as well as make a commitment to get to know and accept this new and unique being, you can lay the foundation for building a solid relationship with your teen.
Children pull away from parents as they enter the teen years because they are beginning the important work of forging their own identity. They need to understand how they differ from their parents and in what ways they are unique in order to truly discover their strengths, their interests, and their challenges.
During this process, as the teen expert Michael Riera says, they fire us as their managers, but we want them to rehire us as their consultants. They no longer want to be told what is important, the best ways to prioritize their time, or how to solve their problems.
It becomes crucial for parents to listen more, say less, and find opportunities to express confidence in their ability to manage their own lives. As parents, this is extremely difficult to do because we love being a part of our child’s life and it is painful and scary to let go. They may make mistakes, take risks, or make choices with which we do not agree. But that is necessary to develop coping skills, resilience, and a strong sense of self — as well as to develop personal goals that are meaningful.
At the same time we are letting go, we must work even harder to stay connected with our teen. Continue to expect your child to eat meals with the family, go on outings, and participate in activities that give back to the community. And, make sure to listen when they want to talk, not when it is convenient for you. They might roll their eyes, complain bitterly, or behave in a less than friendly, even hostile manner — but through your actions they are hearing a powerful message that they will internalize: “You are important to us, we want to be with you, and even though you are moving away from us towards your peers, you are still an integral part of the family.”
Though they resist boundaries and push us away, teens desperately want their parents to accept them for who they are and continue to express their love for them, even when they themselves are not loving. It is a daunting task, but so very worthwhile and rewarding.
What changes can you make at home to appreciate and connect to this new person who has come to live with you?
Karen Friedland-Brown, MA, is the Director of Parents Place on the Peninsula.