As summer gets underway, teenagers may be home more often, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see more of them. If they retreat to their rooms for hours or seem cagey about their plans, don’t take it personally. Following are four truths about teens that may help you and your adolescent coexist.
Teens Need Alone Time
When your formerly chatty adolescent suddenly favors one-word answers, it can feel as though you’ve just been dumped. But unlike past breakups, you’re stuck driving your temperamental ex to her orthodontic appointments. While an adolescent’s frosty demeanor might seem like a pointed affront, it’s almost certainly not.
Think of it this way: Teenagers are charged with the impossible project of becoming independent while still sleeping under our roofs. To accomplish this paradoxical task, they distance themselves psychologically in order to prepare to part physically. Adolescents can’t move on without sometimes pulling away, even while living at home.
Healthy adolescents usually strengthen their ties to peers and adults outside the home as they loosen their ties to their parents. They also tend to punctuate their withdrawal with times of closeness with their parents, so there will almost certainly be moments when you enjoy a strong connection with your teenager. Savor them. As for the rest, remember, separation isn’t rejection.
Complaining Is What Teens Do
When teenagers grouse about their chores, their hand-me-down phones or the discomfort of having braces, parents can worry that their adolescent is marching down the path toward becoming an entitled ingrate.
Before jumping in with reminders about how lucky a teenager is to even have braces, we might stop to note that griping and gratitude rarely occupy the same plane. Adults certainly grumble about bosses and banging radiators, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t thankful for our jobs and heated homes.
Teenagers’ complaints can be easier to bear when we remember that most adolescents are gracious when they are out of the house and, like most adults, wait until they get home to vent their frustrations about the day. With teens, complaining rarely signals ingratitude. Also like adults, adolescents usually welcome validation when upset. A heartfelt, “I hear you” can go a long way toward providing the support that teenagers seek.
Teens Hear You, Even When Their Eyes Roll
Parents can feel ignored, and unnerved, when our gingerly offered guidance about sexual health meets with an eye roll, and our sober explanations about the dangers of opiates trigger shrugs.
But what were we hoping for? No normally developing teenager would earnestly respond, “I have been wondering where you stood on matters of birth control and pain pills. Thank you, truly, for weighing in.”
When raising touchy subjects with your teenager it may be best to trim your expectations and welcome grunts, irked blinking and even attempts to flee the car before it has come to a complete stop as signs of conversational success. These are proof enough that your teenager heard what you said. With teenagers, deflection doesn’t mean disregard.
And be ready for moments when it’s the teenager who raises a sensitive subject. If you are shocked by the topic – or the fact that your teenager is broaching it with you – asking, “Well, what are your thoughts?” will help you understand where your teenager is coming from and focus your response, while also giving you time to collect yourself.
Teenage Quirks Don’t Last
Normally developing teenagers veer from egoistic to altruistic, from cynical to whimsical and from wily to utterly sincere. It’s rare for teenagers to be entirely honest with their parents about the details of their weekend plans, but very few of them grow up to become con artists.
While we might worry that an unpleasant version of our teenager foreshadows a final form, decades ago the psychologist Anna Freud observed that “an adult structure of personality takes a long time to emerge” and that a typical teenager “does not cease to experiment and is in no hurry to close down on possibilities.”
In the day-to-day of raising young people we are proud to share with the world, it can be helpful to remember that teenagers tend to live both up, and down, to our expectations. Should a long view come in handy, reflect on your own experience. Most adults grow and change quite a bit after age 18. We did, and our teenagers will, too.
The vicissitudes of adolescence are hardly a secret, and yet parents can still feel caught off guard when their 13-year-old acts like a teenager. As one of my dearest colleagues says, “Everyone talks about adolescence, but nobody believes it.” And who wants to believe that our warm and friendly child will become an often aloof or inscrutable teenager?
But if we do believe it, then we can take the next step, which is to embrace it. Indeed, the sometimes unwelcome transformations that come with adolescence almost always signal that things are going just as they should.