In my last blog post I talked about how to manage when your teen pulls away from you. Despite many teens pulling away from their parents, they still want to feel loved and accepted by them. Will they tell you this? No way! They likely don’t even realize it on a conscious level; however, it matters to them.
During the teenage years, many teens are very worried about wanting to fit in with their peer group. They may start behaving differently, dressing differently, speaking differently, and spending time with different peers. They may, and likely will to some extent, talk back and/or rebel against rules that they used to follow without question. When they are doing this, they are trying to figure out where they fit in and who they are as an individual. While they are usually very concerned about being accepted by their peers, they also remain concerned about your acceptance of them, as their parent. Remember, you were their number one role model and “go to” person for most of their life, and they are acutely aware of your reaction to any changes they are making as they try to form their own identity.
They want to be accepted and valued as a person, yet they may not always make the best decisions or behave in a way that is acceptable to you. This can pose a challenge. What I have found helpful for the parents I work with is for them to separate out their teen’s behavior from who they are as a person. When you do this, you can accept them and love them as a person, without accepting or approving of all their decisions or behaviors.
It is also important to communicate this to them. You can say something like, “I really don’t like what you did, however, I know you are going to make mistakes and that does not mean that I love you or care about you any less”. Being consistent in loving them and accepting them, as well as with rules and consequences makes a difference.
I know this can be a challenge. Especially if they are saying hurtful things to you or engaging in behaviors that make you angry, scared, frustrated, or sad. It is hard to focus on anything other than the negative behaviors, however, what often happens is that you get more of what you focus on. It can be hard to want to connect with your teen when they are doing things that are upsetting you, however, if you can continue to show them ways you accept them as a person, and recognize the things that they are doing well, you will have a better chance of them doing more of those things.
In addition to behaviors, parents sometimes struggle with changes in their teen’s appearance. Whether they want to get piercings, dress differently, color their hair, let their hair grow, or cut their hair short, these changes can be alarming for parents, which is understandable. Usually when parents are concerned about these things it is because they don’t want their teen to do something they will regret, however, learning to make decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions is an important lesson learned in adolescence. It is also important to not make them feel like their self-worth is based on their appearance.
If your teen is wanting to make a drastic change that you don’t feel will have lasting consequences, consider acting as their consultant and ultimately allowing them to make their own decision. Be genuinely curious about why they are wanting to make the change. Ask them if they have any concerns about making the change and if they decide they don’t like it, how long it will take the “undo” the change. Try to remain neutral and don’t try to convince them of what they should do. Instead, help them think it through, make the decision that they feel is best, and support their decision without judgement.
If they make a change and then regret it, let them know that you love them and accept them and then go back into your consultant role. Remind them that they thought it was a good decision and again, be curious and ask them why they think it did not play out the way they had hoped. Ask them what they might consider differently next time something like this comes up and if they are open to it, help them problem solve how they will manage their emotions around the change if they are having a hard time with it.
As a parent, you will not always like your teen’s behaviors and choices, however you can still love and accept them. When they feel this from you, they may pull back less, they may rebel less, and they may be more likely to come to you when they need help. They are watching your reaction to them and it does matter.
As a disclaimer, if you are concerned that your teen is engaging in behaviors that are unsafe or putting them at risk, your number one goal should be to help them address those behaviors by getting professional help from a medical or mental health professional immediately. The longer the behaviors go on, the more time and energy it will take to address them so intervening early on is important.
How To Parent A Teen
Restoring Peace of Mind During the Teenage Years
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