Even though many parents anticipate that the teenage years will be rocky, they still have a vision for what they hope it will look like. Some parents may hope that they can still sit and watch movies with their teen, go watch their teen play sports and then talk about the game after, make a snack and sit with their teen and their friends and talk, or go shopping with their teen. Whatever the specific activities are, they have a vision that they will have some sort of bonding experience with their teen ongoing. When this does not occur, it can bring up some challenging emotions.
Many of the parents I work with struggle with how to communicate and how to connect with their teen. Even though they are physically in the same home, they feel like emotionally they are miles apart. They try so hard to get their teen to communicate with them and spend time with them that when their teen does not respond in the way they had hoped, they become both exasperated and exhausted. As a result of this, I have seen and heard of experiences where parents cycle through the stages of grief. The loss they are experiencing and the emotions that come along with a significant loss are real.
The stages of grief include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Can you relate to experiencing any of these stages with your teen? Many parents become angry that their teen does not engage with them. Many parents try to bargain with their teen to get them to spend time with them (and often feel taken advantage of by them after the fact). Many parents experience sadness related to the disconnect they feel with their teen. These are all difficult, and normal feelings to experience.
One thing I have found in my work with hundreds, if not thousands, of teens and their families is that once parents accept that their teen may be pulling away from them, things begin to feel better. I know this may sound strange so let me explain. One of the most important developmental processes teens go through is trying to figure out who they are as individuals. As a parent, you have been at the center of your child’s world. They have looked to you for advice, support, to make them feel better when they were struggling, and to know how to respond to new experiences they are having. When they reach the teenage years, they still need help navigating life, however, they feel this internal pull to try to figure it out on their own. This causes internal conflict for them because on some level they know they still need you, however, they don’t want to need you.
As a result of this internal struggle they are feeling, they pull back in an effort to separate from you so that they can figure out who they are as a unique individual. Keep in mind that all of this is happening while they are also struggling with how to fit in with their peers. They are experiencing a lot of internal pressure and confusion without fully understanding all that is happening. As a parent, you may be concerned when your teenager starts to isolate from you both physically and emotionally. It may feel frustrating or even a little scary to not know what is going on in their life. What I have found can happen in these situation, is that as a result of these feelings of loss, parents try to pull their teen in more. Whether through anger, bargaining, or by expressing sadness about their teen not wanting to spend time with them, parents try to increase their connection with their teenager, however, this can result in teens retreating even further.
As a reminder, teens, are trying to increase their independence so when they feel like their parents keep trying to connect with them more, they may feel overwhelmed by the increased attention on them. They may also feel judged if they are being told that what they are doing is wrong, which can result in their shutting down further. It is a challenging situation for both parents and teens when this happens.
I mentioned above that I have seen things get better when parents accept that their teen is pulling back from them so let me explain in more detail. When parents accept that this is the way it is going to be for a while, they stop putting pressure (often times unintentionally) on their teen to change. One person trying to change another never works and usually results in both individuals feeling badly. When parents accept that their teen is pulling back from them in order to develop into their own person, they change their own mindset and behavior, instead of trying to change their teen’s behavior.
Parents who reach this stage become more accepting and relaxed. They don’t take their teen’s behavior personally but rather see it as part of their growing up. When this happens, their dynamic with their teen changes. There is less tension overall and teens feel less pull from their parents, so they don’t feel the need to resist as much. Parents are able to take advantage of the small opportunities to communicate and connect in a non-judgmental way, which may make their teens more open to engaging in these moments. In any situation, when we change our own behavior, it automatically changes how others respond to us.
I want to clarify that I am not suggesting this approach for parents who have concerns that their teen is experiencing mental health concerns, is doing something dangerous, or is engaging in any at-risk behaviors. In these situations, seeking professional help as soon as possible is the best course of action. I am referring to instances where teens have pulled back in an effort to be less dependent on their parents. If you are experiencing this, try to change your mindset and view it as a part of their development that will help them become a productive and independent adult. This will allow you to feel more relaxed about it which may ironically result in more enjoyable interactions with your teen.
Restoring peace of mind during the teenage years.
How To Parent A Teen
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