The transition to adolescence can be stressful for children and it can also be difficult for parents with regards to maintaining a close bond with their teens. When children start to become more independent during adolescence, you may notice your teenager placing more importance on friendships, demonstrating less interest in spending time with family and having an increased desire for privacy. You may also notice your teen responding to you in a more irritable manner. Many parents end up feeling shut out, especially when their teen spends hours alone in their room, they are glued to their phones during designated family time and they reject their parents’ attempts at checking in with an irritable response, “Give me some space,” “I don’t want to talk about that right now,” “My day was fine!” Here are some tips to maintain and enhance your bond with your child as they individuate during their adolescence:
Don’t take it personally- Remember that your teen is in a developmental stage in which it is typical for them to build strong relationships with peers and explore their own interests separate from their family; this change does not mean that your teen loves you any less. Try to be aware of the emotions you have regarding your child’s individuation and validate those feelings. It’s normal to have a range of feelings surrounding the changes your teen is going through! By being aware of your own emotions, you will be better able to avoid judging your teen or responding to them in an angry tone of voice regarding their desire for privacy or independence; this response can push them away even further.
Keep trying- Even when some of your attempts at engaging your teen have been unsuccessful, it is important not to give up. It may feel exhausting at times, but since we are the adults, the responsibility falls on us to maintain our connection with our teens. By giving up having alone time and conversations with your teen, you might inadvertently send the message that you don’t care about maintaining your relationship with them.
Your teen still needs your love- Your teen may not be seek as much physical affection or alone time with you as they did when they were younger, but that does not mean they do not need your positive attention, approval and guidance. It sill boosts their self-esteem to know that their parents care about them and notice their strengths and accomplishments. Praise them for the positive things they do and remind them that you love them and enjoy quality time with them. You can also emphasize your acceptance of their new interests or social life. Some examples include, “I’m proud of you for running the mile race at your track meet tonight,” “Thanks for telling me all about the school dance,” or “I’m glad you had a good time playing Fortnight with your friends.” Providing praise and showing interest in your teen will feel good to both of you, and it can be a great way to break down those walls and make your teen less guarded.
Carve out time for your teen and set the expectation that they do the same- Even if your teenager resists at first, setting aside an hour or two of alone time per week can help maintain or enhance your bond with your teen. Setting alone time as a non-negotiable expectation can be easier if you also encourage and validate their desire to individuate, for example, “That’s exciting that you have a basketball game and your friend’s birthday party this weekend. I don’t want you to miss out those activities, so what day would work best for us to spend some time together?”
Some tips for this alone time include:
- Allow them to pick the activity or topic of conversation.
- Set a positive example by turning off your electronics and being present with your teen (checking your e-mail or text messages can indicate that you are not really listening or enjoying your time together).
- Avoid criticizing, lecturing or discussing topics that might make this parent-teen time less enjoyable (getting a low grade on their report card, staying out past curfew or procrastinating on their college applications).
- If they are not engaging in conversation, have them pick an activity and talk about the activity afterwards, ask them specific questions about their interests or model how to start conversation by bringing up topics that might interest them.
- Praise your teenager for spending alone time with you and let them know how much you enjoyed it.
Although it is developmentally appropriate for adolescents to want more independence and privacy, to develop new interests and opinions and to have some difficulty managing emotions, sometimes adolescents’ behaviors become problematic. Some examples include substance abuse, high risk sexual behavior, extreme anger outbursts, frequent irritability, lying, consistent worry or panic, excessive isolation from friends and family and thoughts of self-harm. If any of the changes that occur during adolescence interfere with your teenager’s functioning or become overwhelming, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional.