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Thread: Transitioning With Teens: Letting Go and Staying Connected

  1. Transitioning With Teens: Letting Go and Staying Connected

    Transitioning With Teens: Letting Go and Staying Connected
    David J. Baxter, 2003

    Looking back, most of us would probably say that parenting a newborn was easy – tiring of course, often stressful, sometimes worrisome – but easy in comparison with parenting a teenager. You held your baby, knowing that this little person depended on you for everything he or she needed to survive – nourishment, shelter, protection from the dangers of the world outside your arms – and initially your child readily accepted what you had to give and what you had to teach. Now, 13 or 14 years later, that same child retreats into silence, resists your advice and guidance, and sometimes even your attempts to participate in or share his or her life. He/she may react with anger or sullen resentment when you make these attempts. What happened?

    What happened is that your child reached the point we all must eventually reach, where we need to step out of the shade of our parents’ lives and begin to forge our own lives and our own identities.

    Understanding Your Teen
    Does raising your teen mean you must step aside and accept that you are no longer needed as a parent? Of course not. But this is an important time of transition for you and your child. What she or he needs from you, and how you will parent is going to change over the next few years as your child completes the metamorphosis from infant to adult. In effect, what you are doing during this time is defining the kind of relationship you will eventually have for the rest of your lives – as parent and adult child.

    What Teenagers Think They Need

    • Independence and Autonomy
    • Privacy and Respect for individuality
    • Freedom in decision-making and to make mistakes
    • More time with and closer links to friends
    • Less time with parents and siblings

    What Parents Think Teenagers Need

    • Advice and Guidance
    • Rules, Structure, Limits, Restrictions
    • Goals and Direction
    • Protection, both from external dangers and from their own mistakes
    • Responsibility
    • Strong ties to immediate and extended family

    The reality is that your teen does need to move away from you and out into the world beyond your guidance and protection. But he or she also still needs you to be there to provide a foundation that permits the teen to do this with confidence and minimal fear.

    Visualize a preschooler in a grocery store – the child runs off, down the aisle, around the corner... freedom! And a second or two later, the child runs back to make sure that you are still there, and, reassured that you haven’t left, disappears into the next aisle again. You provide the security that allows the child to venture away, independently, knowing that if anything happens you are there as a safe haven.

    This is the prototype for parenting a teenager.

    Changing Your Parenting Style
    To successfully parent a teenager requires a major evolution of your parenting style. It means letting go – trusting that your teen, even if he or she makes some mistakes along the way, will eventually make good choices – and conveying that message to your teen. It means understanding that the way any of us learns to make good choices is by making some bad ones along the way and experiencing the consequences.

    “Remember when your teen was a baby just learning to walk?… You would take her little hands in yours and start walking along with her – but you knew you had to let go in order for her to walk by herself. You also knew that she might fall when you let go, but you had faith that this was just part of the process… Now you have a teen who is learning to be an adult… Do you know you have to let go before she can ever master adulthood? Do you know that when you do let go, she will stumble and fall? When she falls or makes a mistake, do you understand that this is just part of the growing up process?” (Nelsen & Lott, Positive Discipline for Teenagers, 2000)
    However, it doesn’t mean letting go completely. Remember the image of the preschooler in the shopping mall? What we try to do as parents in that situation is encourage a sense of independence and self-confidence in the child while simultaneously ensuring that the child is safe. I call this “monitoring from a distance”, because it means we continue to be aware of what the child is doing and to head off potential dangers that the child is probably not even aware of without needing to be right there hanging over the child’s shoulder. This is exactly what we need to do to assist our teenagers in their striving toward adult status.

    In order to develop the confidence he or she needs to fully enter the world of adults, your teen needs to push you far enough away to explore his or her capabilities as an individual. Try not to take this personally – it doesn’t mean that your teen hates you or that you are a bad parent. It happens to all parents. And, sometimes, the closer the relationship you have had with your child before adolescence, the harder the push away must be. Understand that this distance is temporary and your teen will eventually find a way to establish the individual identity he or she requires and to recreate a close relationship with you.

    Go back in your memory to when you were a teen. You may be able to remember what it is that you were attempting to do when you individuated from your parents. Now take the next step: Remember that your teen isn’t you. You were an individual, with your own specific history and your own insecurities and your own individual needs. So is your teenage child. Don’t try to stamp your experiences or history on your teenager. It really is a much different world for teens today than it was when you were that age. Learn about what the world is like for your teen and how to look at that world through his or her eyes. There are stresses and pressures that today’s teens face daily that we never dreamed of.

    Understand that your teen will ultimately live up to the level of trust and the degree of faith that you have in her or him. Convey to your teen that you have confidence in who he or she is and you will encourage the teen to live up to that confidence.

    Finally, keep in mind that what is happening now between you and your teen is a process of building toward an adult relationship with her or him. What kind of relationship do you imagine you will have with your teen when he or she is 25, or 30, or 40? What kind of relationship would you like that to be? You are laying the foundation for that relationship today so trust the process of the teen years. Appreciate that you are the cheerleader, the guide, the coach and the mirror as your child takes on the task of moving toward being an adult life.

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  3. Transitioning With Teens: Letting Go and Staying Connected

    To successfully parent a teenager requires a major evolution of your parenting style. It means letting go - trusting that your teen, even if he or she makes some mistakes along the way, will eventually make good choices - and conveying that message to your teen. It means understanding that the way any of us learns to make good choices is by making some bad ones along the way and experiencing the consequences.
    I would say this is the biggest evolutionary change in your role as a parent. Every thing in you says "hang on", "protect", and everything in your teenager says "get out of here and let me run my own life". This has caused more conflict in the homes of teenagers than any other single issue.

    One way to prepare your teen for independence is give them responsibility that they can handle as early as they can. Believe it or not, I have clients with boys 13 and 14 years old where the mother still tries to tell them how to dress, wear their hair etc. Let them do it as soon as you feel they can.

    Another point I would like to focus on is you child needs to make mistakes. If we protect them all the time, fight their battles for them so to speak, they never learn the art of how to solve problems. So use your common sence and let them make a few mistakes and then assist them in repairing that mistake so they can learn at a young age how to solve problems.

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