I wanted to share a situation I am currently in the middle of. My son is 17 and will legally be an adult in a few months. We have had such a great experience with him through his different stages so far. And when I tell you there are many stages, there are… Hum, that is a good topic for a blog post! But for now, let’s talk about a question I often hear, why do teens pull away from their parents?
My son has always been a caring and loving person. He has such a sweet spirit about him. He also cares a lot about my opinions and feelings. Which sounds like such a great thing and it is. However, this is bittersweet for me. I am trying to raise a confident and assertive young man who knows what he wants in life. I want more than anything for him to know who he is. I want him to know it is okay for him to pull away and become a man.
This picture is dear to my heart. It is a picture of my son standing on the top of a mountain. From a biblical perspective, mountains represent the nearness of God. It could also symbolize a higher state of mind. EXACTLY! A man after Gods’s heart.
When we are in the process of raising independent kids who have a voice and mind of their own, it is important to remember a few important things I have learned along the way.
It Starts With Us
We give mixed signals to our children and we don’t even realize it. We want them to be independent, we are always telling them they need to do this or do that and they need to figure it out on their own. Then we turn around and make them feel guilty for not spending enough time at home, always hanging out with their friends or working too much.
Teens pulling away isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it is very natural and needs to happen. I say that with a disclosure added. If your teen is isolating themselves, getting into trouble or is acting out, that is not okay. Those are red flags and you must intervein immediately to find out what is going on with them.
Why Do Teens Pull Away From Their Parents?
As much as we want to think it’s out of disobedience, it’s not. Separating themselves from us is a way to find their own identity. They are trying to find out who they are apart from us.
They have lived their whole lives up until now based on who we (their parents) wanted them to be. Most of our kids want to be like us on their own. We thought it was so cute and we had little mini-mes walking around. But do we really think that’s a good idea? If we think that through, do we really want our kids thinking and acting like us? YIKES! I’m speaking for myself here. Who WE want them to be is so jaded by our childhood memories, fears, and society.
Don’t allow this process and stage cause you to feel sadness. It will make them feel bad about wanting to find themselves. They are not saying you did a bad job. They are not even saying you failed as a parent.
This is such a powerful process to witness. This is just as powerful as when you first watched them walk, ride their bike, tie their shoes, or even when they started school for the first time.
This is just as epic! This is when you know they are becoming their own person.
They still need us. In fact, they need us now more than ever. They secretly need to know it is okay to pull away. The most important thing they need from us is affirmation. They need to know we approve of who they are becoming.
This is especially important if your teen is anything like my son. He both subconsciously and consciously needs my approval when he makes a decision or has a plan.
A survey was done recently that showed 93% of teens said they love their parents but wanted to live their life based on their own goals while only 7% said they were content with adapting a life their parents make for them.
This is tricky because we have to guide them throughout this phase using wisdom and not emotions.
Here are a few things I have learned along the way:
Don’t take it personally: If our kids are like us when they are small and now they are trying hard to change that and become who they want to be, are they rejecting me? No. Not at all. They are not saying they don’t want to be like us. They will carry on some of us. They will take the values we taught them and add a few of their dreams and views to it. The only way your teen can create their own life is by restructuring the only things they know.
They are looking for a reaction: Watching how we react will help them to determine how they need to react. Think about when they were little… How many times did your child fall and hurt themselves. The first thing they did was look to see how you were going to respond before they did. If you panicked, they started to cry. If you clapped and said “YAY!”, they got up and continued on their way. We need to pay attention and notice when they are making changes. Acknowledge when they made a tough decision. Don’t be so quick to judge or nag. See who they are becoming and be proud! Celebrate with them! Be excited along for them!
Stay connected: Continue to move through life as usual. Keep family days a priority in your home. Make sure everyone clears their schedule and are present to spend quality time together. Send text messages asking how their day is going. When your teen is home, find ways to connect with them. Eat dinner together as a family. Go to church together. This will allow time for them to see family values while they are figuring themselves out.
They still need rules and boundaries in place: Teens finding their own ways isn’t a green light for them to do whatever they want. They secretly want us to stand our ground. In fact, if we don’t, they will lose respect for us and think we don’t care. This is not the stage where we try to become their best friend. They don’t need another friend. They have plenty. They only have one mom and one dad. A survey was done asking 100 teens the same question about this topic. Here are the results…
Our young adults still need our guidance, security, and presence in their lives. Be there for them no matter what.
Here is an article I wrote last year that goes into more detail about why teens want rules.
My door is always open: Always keep your door wide open for conversations and create a safe place for them to come when they have questions and problems they need advice solving. I always tell my kids they will never get in trouble if they come to me and talk about something. Even if they did something wrong, as long as I find out from them, we can figure the rest out together. Don’t get me wrong, they will have consequences but I won’t yell or lose my temper. No matter how hard it is to hear, I have to remain calm and deal with the situation at hand. I will not make fun of them or embarrass them. Stay in control and leave your emotions out of this. This is the time for you to listen and use logic.
CRITICAL MOMENT! I know at that time if this is handled poorly, my child will never come to me again. Trust me, there have been some tough things to hear that have resulted in consequences but they have also resulted in life lessons learned and amazing conversations. They need to know we are disappointed in them. I’m not saying to candy coat anything, if you are angry, let them know you are not happy with a decision they made. Don’t create victims by making it okay.
Reassure them that you are on their side, you forgive them and you support them but there still are consequences to their actions but they are safe. These are keywords they are needed to hear from you.
We (my husband and I) are the first people my son calls on when he is in a situation. He doesn’t try to lie and say he wasn’t involved. He is able to own up to what his part was knowing he will have to take responsibility for his actions and make things right.
That only happens because we have created a safe place for him. He knows that we (his father and I) will be there when he needs us. He knows he can trust us.
I could go on and on because this is one of my favorite things to talk about. I am so passionate about kids being themselves and finding their own way (in arms reach). It created confidence in our children.
What if parents don’t give the freedom for teens to find themselves?
This is the most important section of this entire post. If we do not allow them the freedom to discover who they are apart from us as their parents, they will spend half of their adult lives trying. They will be husbands and fathers confused about who they are, so they will spend time away from what is truly important to find answers. They are mothers and wives unable to focus on their family because they don’t know their purpose in life. They will resent their parents because of this.
Give them this time while they are still in your care. See him not as your son, but as a man in the making. Don’t look at her as your sweet little girl, look at her as she is a woman emerging. As for us parents, we get to witness this process take place.