Parents of teenagers who come to our workshops complain of common woes like ‘my teenager doesn’t talk to me, but chats with her friends all the time’, ‘my son always wants to be alone in his room with the door closed’, ‘my daughter just refuses to come for family functions’, ‘my child spends every free moment on her phone with not a minute to spare for me’ and the most frequent one, ‘my teenager is in a world of his own and doesn’t help out with anything at home’.
It is tough for parents of teenagers when that little child who saw them as the centre of his life, now barely glances at them. In our sessions, parents often have an ‘Aha’ moment when they hear about how the teenage brain is literally pushing them away from their parents. The brain is preparing them to survive in the world by urging them to depend on the outer society and their peers more than parents. This makes them seek out their friends more than family.
In our workshops, parents also hear about how important it is to be close and connected with our teenagers as it’s the only way we can guide them. This leaves them confused. Do we hold them close or let go?
There are no clear-cut answers. How much space to give a teenager? Do we just accept if they do not want to join in family events? How much time with friends is ok? How do we deal with the feeling of rejection we have when they do not want to spend time with us?
We could try our best to arrive at a balance between our teenager having the space to spread her wings, yet keeping her close, safe and connected to the family.
Recognising the need to be with peers
Having understood that their brain is pushing them to seek their peers, it’s important for us to give them the space to have their time with friends. When those needs are met they are more likely to have a willingness to consider our needs.
Working on making the time spent with us interesting and enjoyable for them
Do we have time to just chat and listen? Can we share something of our lives with them? Could we find activities to do together which they enjoy - a board game or movie? Could we get to know more about things which are important to them - maybe sports or music?
Create rituals and setexpectations
Give them some clear-cut but reasonable expectations from our side. Maybe dinner together every night or a Sunday visit to grandparents. Both parents and teens can arrive at this through discussions. Maybe we make some things non-negotiable, so they understand this is basic function of being part of a family.
Share information about the teenage brain
Teenagers who are given the knowledge of what is happening in their brains feel a sense of relief. ‘Oh, now I understand...I was feeling bad that I wanted to be with my friends more than my family’. Having shared this information, we can also emphasis that while we understand what they are feeling, it important that they understand they are part of a family.
Give them responsibilities
As early as possible, set clear expectations on how they need to help in tasks such as serving or clearing food, helping with shopping etc so they understand the importance of their responsibilities in the family.
Talk about your feelings
Finally, the only way to connect is by being honest with them about our feelings. Without using emotional blackmail or blame like ‘You never talk to us/ you never spend time with the family/ you only care about your friends’. Such comments are bound to push them further away. Instead, we could share how much we long for more connection, by saying, ‘I miss spending time with you. I want to know more about what is happening in your life’. This will touch a chord in them.
There is, after all, a little child deep inside every teenager who longs for closeness with parents!
— The writer is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families.