How can you as parents give your teen the space he needs while ensuring that his journey from adolescence into adulthood is a balanced and well-adjusted one? Here are insights from a two-part series.
By Arundhati Swamy *
“Rishi, Rishi wake up! Come on, Papa wants to go out for Sunday breakfast together. Get up, Rishi!”
Reena is knocking on her teenager’s door.
Finally, Rishi, 14, opens the door.
“Mom, I don’t want to go out,” he mumbles.
“Rishi, it’s 11.30 am already! Your light was on till past 1:00 a.m. last night. I’ve told you before not to stay up so late. Now, get ready and come with us,” snaps Kiran, his dad.
“No, I told you I don’t want to go anywhere! Leave me alone!” Rishi shouts back and slams the door.
Reena and Kiran look at each other helplessly. Their son used to love going out. Now, he refuses to go anywhere with them and prefers to be in his room. Or hang out with his gang of friends. They don’t know how to reach out to him for he hardly talks to them. Their teenager, they worry, is slipping away from them.
Are you experiencing the same unsettling changes as Reena and Kiran? Do you too feel your teen doesn’t need you anymore?
When your child enters the teenage years, remember he is learning something new every day, in different ways. He is now beginning to shape himself, his personality, and create his identity. A big part of this exploration happens through his interaction with his peer group, his friends. In fact, it is with them, rather than you, his parents, that he learns the most about himself henceforth. He learns from the choices he makes, the risks he takes and yes, the experiences that impact this path of self-discovery.
With her friends and peers, your teen understands a little bit more about herself, her likes and dislikes, she learns about her own emotional responses and reactions, abilities and capabilities. These interactions lead to self-discovery and hence, are vital. As parents, it may seem that your teen is drawing away from you. You may feel lost and uninvolved at times. The truth is, your teen still needs you. The relationship she shares with you continues to be a deep and loving one, but it is also evolving, every day.
Think back to when your child was younger. At each stage of his growth, the parent-child relationship was different, wasn’t it? In fact, the period immediately just before teenage — the preteen years — is one when your child is no longer completely dependent on you but is still eager to share things with you. The years of middle childhood leading up to the preteen years are when growth occurs at a steady pace. You have a lot of interaction with your child and you still retain considerable control over her.
Then adolescence sets in. And everything changes, for your child and for you. You may believe that you are ready for these changes, but your emotions may well overwhelm you. As your teen begins to focus more on his friends and other social groups you may feel lost and unwanted. Your child is not seeking you out as often as before. Like Reena and Kiran, you may think: ‘My child used to share everything with me. Now he doesn’t do that anymore!’ or ‘My child doesn’t need me anymore.’ It feels like the control over your child is slipping away, that there’s less to do with your child. You may be confused about how to hold on to a relationship that is changing so much.
Why does your teen need you more than ever, now? First, let’s look at all the changes your teen has to cope with.
Your teen is dealing with all these complex changes. Your role as a parent remains intact, but how you play that role is important. Your teen needs to know and believe that ‘I can always go back to my parents and talk to them about anything that might be disturbing me or worrying me. Or what I am curious about.’ Which is why your teen needs you — to answer her questions or, simply, to be available for support. She must think: ‘My parent is there for me to lean on, especially when I’m not feeling good.’ However, your teen will determine when she wants to connect with you. Be aware that this is the most natural way for your teen to behave.
Ideally, your teen should have begun learning many important life skills from early childhood. Else, she will have to start now. A bigger challenge for you and your teen would be to help her ‘unlearn’ behaviours that prevent her from becoming a responsible teen. Here are some skills your child needs to become more competent for the challenges of the teenage years:
A teen mind is usually preoccupied with many things. So, your teen’s conversations with friends are more interesting as they share similar growing up experiences. Hence, he may be less expressive with you. Often, he will answer you with phrases or monosyllables such as ‘fine’, ‘ok’, ‘maybe’, ‘later’, ‘why’, ‘I know’, ‘how come’, etc. His reluctance to talk about his day with you is often prompted by his fear of being judged, misunderstood or criticised. It’s possible your teen may also feel lost and confused about all the changes, strong emotions and new experiences.
Which is why the parent-child relationship needs to move to a different level altogether. Actually, teens need their parents more than ever now, but in different ways. So, letting go and yet being there for him is like a musical duet where sometimes he goes solo, sometimes both of you are in harmony and you are always like the back-up chorus.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are there for each other. For, it is your love and support that will help your teen learn and grow through the ups and downs of these teenage years.
* as told to Divya Sreedharan
In Letting Go – Part 2, next week, we talk about the delicate balance parents need to maintain. Stay connected, but don't try to control, your teen. Don't be your teen’s buddy... just be there for her.
About the author:
Written by Arundhati Swamy on 2 April 2019.
Arundhati Swamy is a family counsellor and Head of the Parent Engagement Program at ParentCircle.
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Arundhati Swamy *