The Changing Relationship Dynamic Between Parents and Teens

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Over the coming weeks and months, many things will change for parents of graduating high school seniors. They’ll see their children less, miss out on beloved traditions or quality time, or feel like they have lost their sense of purpose. (Can any empty nesters relate?) However, for many parents of teens, their biggest struggle is loss of influence—imagined or real.

During the season of raising teens and young adults, our children are increasingly listening to voices other than their parents. They hear opinions, advice, constructive criticism, and more, from their friends, social media, teachers/professors, acquaintances, celebrities in the media, etc. Although they’re not necessarily cutting ties or rejecting what you say as their parent, it can feel that way. In fact, many times what may be perceived as a rejection is more a re-negotiation of the former parent-child relationship.

In my work at LifeSmart, I enjoy talking with parents of teens and young adults. More than anything, parents are lamenting that their kids are not listening to them as before or are rejecting their advice or opinions. Whether it happened gradually or suddenly, it can be a rude awakening for parents who were never prepared for this! To a person, they long for the days when their kids were more docile, their homes were more peaceful, and everyone seemed to be on the same page.

And, then we remember we were there, too. But, now in our role as parent, we wonder what to do.

Instead of perceiving this season as rejection, I encourage parents to see it as their teen saying, “Hey, I’m almost a grown-up, give me some more credit!” or “Let me figure this one out on my own.” Or, “I’m gaining some new perspectives that we can chat about sometime.” Whether we’re talking about curfews or communication, dating or homework, or politics or religion, we need to avoid burning our bridges. And, we need to accept that they’re growing into their own person. Just like you did.

If you are a parent of a teen, please, continue reading! This is your golden opportunity. If you recognize and react to this new reality with trust (and they handle it well), you can build an even greater, and more sustainable, platform for parental influence and relationship in your teen’s life. It’s your chance to create a new, mutually trusting and mature relationship that can be a source of great benefit and joy to you both in the future.

But, you need to take the lead.

Here are a few ways you can help develop this new relationship dynamic:

  • Adopt a communication strategy that is more “share with” than “talk to.” Be a safe place for them to share their views.
  • Include your teen in decisions you would otherwise make without their feedback.
  • Ask them to help you plan events, outings, family get-togethers, parties, etc. Take their opinions and suggestions into consideration.
  • If your teen is asking for more freedom (for example, a later curfew), consider giving it, but with added responsibility (e.g., an additional chore).
  • Ask your teen out to coffee or to the place they open up most.
  • Share with your teen about current topics or articles that are relevant today or will be after they leave home.

Be encouraged. Statistics support the idea that, despite appearances to the contrary, parents are still the number one influencers in a young person’s life. The majority of teenagers report that they have values and general beliefs similar to their parents and consider their parents as being highly significant in their lives (despite what their own parents may perceive at the time!).

When all is said and done, here is something we can guarantee: your children will make some not-so-great choices throughout their adolescent years, but they will also make some wonderful ones. They will stumble and make great strides. Sometimes, they’ll want you to pick them up, dust them off, and set them straight again. Other times, they’ll prefer you keep your distance and let them handle it on their own.

If you have the benefit of other positive, encouraging, and healthy voices in your child’s life (coaches, mentors, relatives, teachers), you’ll be able to approach the launch with a greater sense of peace. He or she will be more prepared for the real world, where we all have to sort the good voices from the bad. Hopefully, with the benefit of the right modeling, they’ll surround themselves with the good.

It’s all part of the journey to adulthood. Just remember, no matter how tough the going gets, your child does value what you think, even if they may not always show it. And, trust me, if your relationship is solid, one day you’ll realize that more of your words sunk in than you ever imagined. Just as it was meant to be.

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