Teenagers are at an age where they are often more consumed with their friends than with their family. Actually, this is just how it appears on the outside. When they were little they liked to snuggle in your lap, and a Friday night with Mom and Dad was as good as anything. Now they want to be with their friends on the weekends, and it doesn’t seem like they really care what you think or feel; this is all a facade.
In the counseling room the majority of clients I work with discuss their families, not their friends. They want approval, love and attention from their parents. When your children were really small, like toddler-small, you probably noticed they were more content to play when you were somewhere nearby. If you were in the same room they were happier than if they couldn’t see you. This is the same for teens, but their “room” is much bigger.
Teens don’t literally need you in the same room anymore, but they still need you to provide them security and safety. When you kindly give a limit, like a 10:00 curfew, you’re saying, “I love you.” They might protest and argue, but they are also secretly glad you care enough to keep tabs on them. When you insist on being hugged before bed each night they might squirm or roll their eyes, but believe me, they secretly like it. When you tell your daughter she’s beautiful, or your son that he’s a great catch, you might get a look of dismissal, but you’ve helped his or her self-image.
Showing love to teenagers is more complicated than it was when your kids were small. You used to be able to pick them up and swing them around. You’d be rewarded immediately with giggles and smiles. Now you pick them up from soccer practice and swing them all over town depending on what extra-curricular activity is scheduled for the evening, and sometimes you don’t even get a thank you. You’re rewarded months or years later when they make a good decision at a party, or when they have the fortitude to push through a hard course in college.
It’s really important to remember that teens are operating on a larger, more independent scale than they did just a few years ago. Your job is to give them all the same things you always have: affection, praise, limits, rules, expectations, and grace. You have to constantly evolve in how you give these things to your teen. They are growing up and maturing very quickly. Just when you think you’ve got it down, they change. When you keep your eye on the end-goal, which is to raise a functional and healthy adult, you won’t fight all the tiny battles. Keeping your eye on the end-goal also helps you to love your teen better. When they go through a period of bad behavior, you’re not as panicked because you know you’re not at the end yet.
Keep on the course and love your teenager with compassion, firmness and affection. Stay with it; the results will show later on.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT