Monday, February 28, 2011


One of the most painful parts of parenting a teen is missing them. Though they are still very much a presence in the house, probably more a presence than you want, as in dirty dishes, pop tart wrappers, empty soda cans, half full glasses of juice strewn around the house, and dirty laundry decorating their floor. You totally wouldn't miss any of that. But you do miss the regular hugs and 'I love you" that used to roll of their tongue, or the ease with which they plopped down on the couch or in your bed to watch a movie, or the time when they actually on their own accord came to you for advice or to tell you a story about something that happened in school or with a friend. Those moments are fewer and farther between, if at all, as you focus on making sure they do what they need to do and don't unknowingly shoot themselves in the foot. Most communication tends toward interrogation: " Did you talk to your teacher? Did you go after school for help? What did the coach say? How much homework do you have? What did you get on the quiz? Did you make that appointment with your guidance counselor? Have you emptied the trash? Get off that phone, and facebook, or that video game and get to your homework!

Does that sound familiar? The irony is that at this point in their life when they do have a lot on their plate, and they are distracted, forgetful, and full of themselves, and actually really need your help to keep it all together, they are developmentally driven to reject your help. They are engaged in the process called "separation/individuation. They want to stand on their own two feet, and handle the world on their own.  When they show the signs that they aren't handling it, like getting disappointing grades, or missing deadlines for projects and papers, or neglecting family responsibilities like cleaning their room or emptying the dishwasher or taking out the trash parents jump into manager mode. This rarely goes well. Perhaps you are able to bully them to get done what you expect by threatening and yelling but it does come at an expense. Teens see things in black or white. You are either the good guy or the bad guy, it is hard for them to see you as both. They want to feel competent in the world, and your constant questioning and criticizing makes them feel incompetent.

If you feel your relationship with your teen has morphed mostly into the interrogation mode. Take a minute and reflect. Are there some things your teen is doing well at?  Have you told him/her that? Are you balancing the need to stay on top of what they aren't doing with pride in the things that they are doing? Sometimes we worry so much that as parents we have to get all the "lessons" in before they leave and go to college when it feels like our job is done, that we forget to see the good stuff. Maybe you have a teen who is really engaged in life, has a ton of friends, active in a sport or the arts, maybe has a part-time job, but when they come home they are slovenly and sullen. You read that as detached from the family, I read that as exhaustion. Here is your "I get it " moment. "You know honey I know I've been on you about a lot of stuff lately, and I think sometimes I forget to tell you how great I think you are. I know you have a lot on your plate, and probably by the time you get home, you're tired. I hate that we argue so much, is there anything I can do differently so we don't. I love you, and I miss how much fun we used to have, and how easy it was."

Separation is hard. But this is the time for your teen to stand on his/her two feet, and time for you too as well. Make some space, they will stumble, but you have given them a strong foundation, now let them build.

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