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The Teen Years - A Push for Independence!

There is a time during the teen years when it all feels hard. There is a push-pull relationship between parents and their teens that can cause uncertainty, frustration, and tears (sometimes on both sides!).

Why are the teen years so hard?

Do you remember when you were trying to teach your child how to ride her bike without training wheels? At first, you ran alongside her, helping her get the feel for balancing the bike. She was scared and telling you, "Don't let go!" As much as she wanted to do this scary thing, she still needed you near. Of course, you had mixed feelings as well! You wanted to protect her and send her on her way to this next step of independence. You want to hold on and let go at the same time! The teen years are very much a replay of teaching your child to ride a bike. Your teen wants her independence so fiercely that she is yelling at you to “Let Go!” while you know the dangers out there are so much worse than falling off her bike and skinning her knee. Parents and teens alike are walking the tightrope of wanting to let go and hold on at the same time! So, don’t feel bad if you’re in conflict with your teen right now. You are not alone! The Shift I remember during my stay-at-home-mom years, it was easy for me to “read” the kids as they walked in the door. I could tell if they needed to talk or needed some downtime to decompress. As they hit their teen years, it became a bit more of a guessing game as they didn’t necessarily need me around, but they would still want to talk some things out...when they were ready. This is one shift from early childhood to the teen years: Kids want your attention on their terms! Instead of coming home from school and telling you everything about their day, they’ll give you tidbits of information, leaving details out that only their friends know. Early teens are discovering the joys of more independence. They are spending more time away from home with friends, in sports or other activities. Sometimes the only chance we have to chat with them is when we drive them to and from their destinations! I remember using those drives to check in on things while trying to avoid sounding like an interrogation detective. This is hard on parents because we know the dangers out there. Drugs, sex, drinking...the list goes on and on. One poor choice can send them down a path no one wants their child to experience. While kids will say, “I’ve got this,” parents are thinking, “If you only knew…” We see the danger their 15-year-old brains can’t possibly understand, yet they turn to their friends for advice. Additionally, parents feel like screens are more important to our teens than we are. I hate to say it, but in a way it’s true! Teens connect with their peers all day long through texting, Snapchat, online video game rooms, etc. With their eyes on screens all day long, teens don’t spend as much time just chatting with their parents. The Bottom Line... The need for independence is a tug-of-war parents and teens have done for generations! It is actually a replay of the “don’t let go/let me go” moments of teaching our kids to ride their bikes. We want to hang on, yet know we need to let go. Our child is also struggling with wanting more independence yet feels nervous about it (but certainly won’t admit it!). Teens are trying so hard to be grown-ups, while still needing the safety net of parents as their soft place to land. They are trying to make big decisions while lacking the cognitive development to do this alone! Did you know the part of the brain that handles executive functions, including long-term decision making, doesn’t fully develop until age 25?! No wonder kids make poor choices, their brain isn’t ready for adult decision-making. Whether they want to admit it or not, teens still need our guidance and our love. They also need a lot of our patience! There are ways to still connect with your very busy teen! A few quick things I suggest: 1. Eat family dinners together. If your schedules are all scattered, then make a point of finding an alternate time, such as “Pancake Saturdays” or “Simple Sunday Suppers” together.

2. No screens during meals! This is your time to connect.

3. Make a request to have some one-on-one time. Go shoot hoops, take a hike, bake cookies, go to a favorite local bookstore, do a project together. Get in their world and embrace that time

4. Offer to drive them to their friend’s house -- that’s 20 minutes you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise!

5. Most importantly, be available for the small stuff so they’ll come to you for the big stuff.

While your teen may balk against some of these ideas at the moment, I promise you they’ll look back at those times and be thankful you made the effort to stay connected.

One last thing, don’t take your teen’s need for independence as a rejection of you. This is a natural part of the parent-child relationship. Your teen is experiencing confidence in trying new things, making new friends and spreading her wings. She can because you taught her that even though you’re letting go, you’ll always be there if she falls off that bike. You’ve taught her well, Mom and Dad, so it’s okay to step back and quietly remind her, “I’ll always be here.”

Amazingly, our kids come back to us during their young adult years and it’s a magical time, trust me! While these tips will be helpful, if you're ready for a deeper dive and more specific strategies for your family, now is the time to click here and book a Parenting Strategy Session! Why continue to struggle when help is just a click away?! Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


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