Once your children reach puberty, it can be a stressful and confusing time for everyone. The biological and psychological changes that occur, as well as the change in social roles can be dramatic. Although most teenagers and parents go through this stage without the need for counselling and eventually cope with the necessary changes, it is not without some power struggle and suffering. As some would say, “It hurts to grow up.”
Adolescents Create Distance
In this stage of a family’s life cycle, it’s important for teenagers to distance themselves from their families, to uncover their identity and still maintain their allegiance to family’s values, and rehearse their future role as young adults. For parents it’s not always easy to maintain the balance between fostering autonomy and remind their teenagers they are not adults just yet. This double-bind of “you’re no longer a child, but you’re also not an adult” can become a real power struggle inside the home.
“As long as you live in my house, you need to obey my rules.” Is a common sentence in fights and not often ends with a very dramatic teenager walking away or slamming his room door. It is also in this stage that friends become the center of their world, anything and everything they say is more accurate and truthful than the advice you may give them – despite your long years of personal experience “you simply can’t understand me.” – is a sentence often said.
Friends Become More Important
Teenagers seem to become more attached to their friends than their families and parents may feel excluded when a child no longer wishes to engage in activities you used to do together. It’s normal to feel hurt about it, however that distancing is a natural movement and that’s where the teenage paradox resides.
Apparently friends are the most important thing in the world and parents are a drag, but the truth is a parent remains a crucial figure for a child throughout their whole lives. Although a teenager doesn’t want public displays of affection (which needs to be respected) or do anything with you – the truth is they miss it. The good news is when they become young adults the movement inverts and they will explicitly ask for your presence.
But what can you do now? My best advice from my years in private practice is: be your child’s safe haven. They may wander off with friends and spend the least amount of time indoors, but there’s always a place for them in their home – is a message that needs to be conveyed. They are not betraying the family by going out into the world experiencing things – it’s a normal process.
For teenagers, the anguish they portray is mostly related to this paradox: they want to be free and away from their families but also feel as if their place in the family will always be there. It’s up to you as a parent to help them realize they can have the best of both worlds without having to choose.
Oakville Wellness Team