A mom wrote me recently, concerned that her fifteen-year-old son was pulling away from her, especially in terms of being affectionate and letting her do things for him. This is a common occurrence in the lives of parents and kids. This mother wondered, “How do you provide that same sense of security to your children as they start to break away from you?” My response offered words of comfort and advice that might prove helpful if you’re experiencing something similar.
It’s totally normal.
This is what teenagers do. What they’re supposed to do. They pull away so they can figure out who they are without you. Your child is becoming himself, which is what you want.
This is an important step towards self-exploration.
Your son is creating new attachments to his peers that allow him to become ready to be a “we” with someone else in the future. This shift in attachment—he’s still attached to you, but in a different way—allows him to take the secure base he has in his relationship with you, and use it as a launching pad to explore who he is apart from his family and in the context of his peers. This process is a crucial stage in his identity formation.
Find ways to connect, physically.
It’s still possible to be physically close with your son. Take his cues and respect his journey into adulthood, while still letting him know how much you love him. At times this may mean a simple pat on the back or the head, or an arm around his shoulder. But even if it’s a bit uncomfortable, try to keep hugging him when you can—even it’s the dreaded “side hug” that can feel so awkward. As much as possible, keep up the affection, and the connection. You might even see whether he’d be willing to let you climb into bed next to him to read to him or have him read to you. If not, get the laptop and watch some funny YouTube videos together. You have to sit super close so you can both see the screen, and the laughter can create a shared moment of joining.
Be thoughtful while also observing boundaries.
Don’t be corny, but come up with gestures that show him thoughtfulness and nurturing without treading on his independence. Take him a Jamba Juice when you pick him up from school. Text him about something you’re proud that he’s done. Challenge him to a game of Ping-Pong. Take him to dinner and a movie. And when he’s sick, baby him like you used to. He’ll love it.
Sometimes you just can’t win.
One moment he’ll tell you to back off, then the next minute he’s mad that you’re showing attention to his younger sister. It’s very similar to his toddler years, when he’d say, “Me do it,” and then get mad that you weren’t helping him. He’s in between two worlds and wants what he feels like he needs—but only when he thinks he needs it. He wants to be treated like an independent adult, but secretly, he may have times when he just feels like being nurtured like a little kid. The best thing you can do is to assume he still wants you to nurture him and be a mom, while also communicating that he can tell you to give him space if he feels smothered.
Since you’re not a mind-reader, initiate a direct conversation about your uncertainty about how to interact with him. Talk about your desire to keep nurturing him and doing things for him, while still respecting his space and independence. Explain that you know how capable he is, then ask for his guidance and advice on this issue. If nothing else, he’ll be aware that you’re trying.
Back off, but be available.
Self-sufficiency is so important, so you want to encourage it. But you need to still be sending signals that say, “I’m always here for you if you need me.” Communicate this over and over, both verbally and nonverbally. Then he’ll know it’s true, whether his actions show it or not.
An essential part of parenting is keeping your kids safe and helping them make good decisions. Your strong instincts to protect your teens from making bad choices is what motivates you to check in with them and even call their friends’ parents to check to make sure they are being adequately supervised. But what about spying? Is that going too far? It’s possible that your desire to protect may lead you to cross a line that can not only be harmful to your teenager, but also damage your relationship with them.
So how do we act as conscientious, loving parents who responsibly watch over our kids, without becoming so overbearing that we cross that line and end up creating problems even bigger than the ones we’re trying to avoid? Well, we can start by asking ourselves some basic questions:
What are my motives?
Ask yourself why you feel the need to spy. Is it really necessarily? Is your teenager in real danger? If so, then there might actually be a need to monitor at least some of what they’re doing, so you can help them be safe. But it’s a different story if your teen is actually a good, responsible kid. Is there a chance that you’re being paranoid? Maybe you made some mistakes in your youth, and you’re afraid Continue Reading »
Many parents never talk to their daughters about domestic violence and partner abuse.
For some, it’s because they don’t think it could happen. But research shows that it’s irresponsible to think that any young woman is immune to partner abuse. In fact, while statistics vary, estimates indicate that as many as half of women will be victims of domestic violence at some point. So please don’t say, “It couldn’t happen to my girl.”
Other parents avoid the subject because they feel they simply don’t have enough knowledge to know how to address the situation. So let’s talk about some ways you can arm your daughter against an abusive romantic relationship.
Teach her that she’s a strong, competent individual.
Build your daughter’s sense of self-worth and confidence. You can do this in many different ways: give her opportunities to Continue Reading »
Parenting a teenager is a mixed bag of rewards and challenges. One of the most challenging—and important—parts of parenting an adolescent is figuring out how to respond and cope when your teenager rebels. Here are some suggestions.
Put teen rebellion in perspective.
Mark Twain is said to have advised that when a child turns 13, his parents should put him in a barrel, close the lid, and feed him through a hole in the side. Then, when he turns 16, plug up the hole.
I offer this quote not to advocate incarceration or starvation as a healthy response to teen rebellion, but to help you see that you’re not alone. In fact, cross-cultural research shows that there are two universals when it comes to teens: spending less time with their parents (and more time with peers), and doing things differently from their parents (teen rebellion!).
From a big-picture, evolutionary perspective, these two trends are extremely important for society. For one thing, spending more time with peers allows teenagers to Continue Reading »
Why can’t she think before she acts?
Why does he get so emotional so easily? It seems like he misinterprets everything I say and do.
How much freedom do I give her to decide how she spends her time?
How do I give him the skills he needs for meaningful relationships?
Do questions like these ever run through your mind? If so, you might be interested in hearing about some cutting-edge science on the adolescent brain that helps shed some light on these questions. Let me give you two “teen brain facts,” and then we’ll talk about how to apply that knowledge, so you can make good parenting decisions that will strengthen your relationship with your teenager, and help them become the best person they can be.
Teen Brain Fact #1: The adolescent brain is changing very rapidly.
Scientists have shown over the last couple of decades that the actual, physical makeup of the human brain changes throughout a human’s lifetime. And guess when the brain changes the most, aside from just after birth. That’s right: during adolescence.
To put it simply, a “blossoming” occurs during pre-adolescence (around age 11-14), when the brain is creating all kinds of new connections. But then, during the teenage years, a “use it or lose it” process takes over, and brain connections that aren’t being used are “pruned,” similar to the way a tree is pruned. By cutting back weak connections, the whole brain becomes stronger. What determines what gets cut and what stays? Experiences determine which brain connections survive and thrive, and which ones whither and eventually disappear. In fact, teenagers can lose neural connections at the rate of 30,000 per second.
Yes, you read that correctly. Your teen is losing 30,000 brain connections per second. You were right all along–they are actually losing their mind. But unlike everything in Texas, bigger isn’t necessarily better, or else the best brain functioning would occur at age 11 or 12. The brain is actually improved by taking away and pruning down unused connections, so that the more important and valuable ones can thrive. It’s about creating a leaner, meaner brain that’s faster and more efficient.
Teen Brain Fact #2: An important part of the brain is “off-line” during adolescence.
As if losing 30,000 brain cells per second weren’t enough, there’s another problem. Continue Reading »