Adolescence is, by far, one of the most difficult and challenging developmental stages for both parents and teens.
This post is dedicated to all of the parents who feel incompetent and inadequate: parents that are doing everything they know and everything they can for their struggling or distant teen, and are still left feeling helpless and frustrated.
When it comes to their relationship with their teens, I often see parents take one of two stances, in an attempt to manage and keep up with the changing needs of both parties:
They either become very involved, make demands and rules, supervise closely and micro manage their teen. Or, they loosen the rules, allow the teen to have a great amount of freedom in many areas of their lives, retracting their involvement and believe that by doing so they are conveying the message “I trust you”.
Parents that choose the former stance often feel tired and frustrated by their inability to fully control all aspects of their teen’s life. They describe hating the experience of “policing” their teen and seek therapy because of the high levels of friction they have with them.
Parents who take the latter stance, often seek therapy because they are disconnected from their teen. They feel powerlessness and concern because they have no access to their teen, despite a clear knowing - either factual, or intuitive - that they are struggling tremendously.
I am not going to attack, dispute or go against either one of these stances because there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with neither one of them, as they are both valid, sometimes much necessary, approaches in child (and teen) rearing.
There is, however, a fundamental component that must be incorporated into any such approach, without which neither one will be effective: engagement and communication.
In order to be very clear, I will be slightly provocative: when dealing with teens ANY communication and engagement is welcome.
It is many parents’ dream to have their teen come to them when they are in distress, to confide in them on any subject whatsoever, and to have harmony in their day to day lives. Reality is oftentimes quite different. In the rude awakening to the gap between the dream and reality, parents may become preoccupied by what is missing and lose sight of what exists.
Often parents feel infuriated by the constant arguing and use of disrespectful language and tone, and exhausted by their teen’s ability to make every little thing into a huge discussion. Or, on the flip side of that behavior, parents are frustrated with the lean, dismissive and apathetic reactions to parents’ conversation initiatives and/or the insignificant topics their teens are approaching them with.
It is important to understand that both of these ways of interacting are meaningful, because no matter what the interaction is seemingly about, and no matter how lean, or explosive it is - simply having those interactions is the teen’s way of saying: “I know you are here and I still need you”. It is their way to stay connected.
If this perspective can be kept in mind, it may allow parents to feel differently about their contact with their teen; it may allow them to feel less judgmental of themselves and of their teen, and, possibly, it may allow them to react differently to their teen and alleviate the tension in the relationship.
Nonetheless, holding a new perspective on any relationship isn’t always easy, especially on one which changes rapidly with a loved one whose well-being is entrusted in the parents' hands. Getting the right support can help significantly. Family therapy, or individual therapy are a good resource for that.