The relationship between you and your teen might be strained at times; this is often a normal part of the growing up process for adolescents. In some cases, however, parents do things unintentionally that end up driving their teens away. If you are having trouble keeping the bond between yourself and your teen, it might be worth it to take a look at this list of ways that you might be relating to your teen that might be detrimental to your relationship now and in the coming years.
#1 You Make All of the Decisions for Your Teen
By the time your child’s age ends in “teen,” they should be making a lot of decisions. This will look different for a thirteen-year-old than it will for a seventeen-year-old, of course. But consider that your child is, at most, a handful of years from being a legal adult. Even a young teen can decide who to be friends with, what to wear, what classes to take (with input from a school guidance counselor), and what to eat for lunch. If you are making all of these small decisions for your child, then you are not only doing him or her a disservice, but also potentially pushing them away.
Remember that during the teen years, it’s your child’s job to learn how to be an adult, and part of being an adult is making decisions, even the wrong decisions, and learning from their mistakes. While you should not let your young teen make all of his or her own decisions on important matters, it’s wise to begin the process of letting them make choices by the time they’re 12 or 13 years old.
#2 You Solve Your Teen’s Problems for Them
You might have heard the term, “helicopter parent.” If you are constantly solving your teen’s problems for them, you might be one. Teens are bound to get into mishaps; that’s part of their nature and par for the course when learning various lessons that will help them as they approach adulthood. They also need to learn how to solve their own problems when they come up.
This means that if your child puts off doing a school project until the last minute and isn’t going to be able to get it done, all you should do is say, “that’s too bad,” and go to bed at your normal bedtime. It’s not your job to stay up and help. Remember that a lack of planning on your child’s part does not constitute an emergency on your part! By jumping in to solve their problems, you’re telling your teen that you do to trust them to be able to handle situations on their own. Let them do it. If they fail an assignment, that will go a long way in teaching them how to better plan next time. (And you can help them learn better time-management techniques once the need becomes apparent.)
#3 Your Rules and Consequences Are Not Age Appropriate
It can be hard to accept the fact that your tall, gangly teenager is not the same person as he or she was five or ten years ago. While you could give your little one a time-out for misbehavior or tell your eight-year-old that they were not allowed to go out of the backyard without permission, these are obviously not appropriate rules or consequences for teenagers. Unfortunately, some parents don’t reconsider old rules when their kids approach adulthood.
It’s good for you to insist that your teens tell you where they will be and who they will be with; that’s within the limits of normal, cautious parenting. It would not be within normal limits to insist that a neurotypical teenager is always attended by an adult, however. Grounding from privileges can be an age-appropriate consequence for missing curfew or lying, but not for saying a four-letter word when talking to friends. One tip for deciding whether to discipline teens is to consider first whether the transgression is really worth standing your ground on. In some cases, the answer will be yes, and in other cases, you’ll decide that it’s not worth punishing over. Maybe a simple discussion will suffice.
#4 You Give Them Too Much Freedom
On the other hand, not having any boundaries or consequences can cause your teenager to think that you don’t care about their welfare. It also gives them too much freedom to explore activities that are unhealthy or downright dangerous. For example, if you have a laissez-faire attitude about teens using drugs, it’s not a stretch to think that your teenager might think it’s perfectly fine to do so. Alternatively, they might think that you don’t care enough about their welfare to stop them from doing harmful things.
Keep in mind that many times, teens are relieved when their parents say no to something that is obviously dangerous or inappropriate. For example, if your teen’s friends invite him or her to an activity that makes your child uncomfortable, knowing that you will say no can be a relief. Don’t be afraid to set appropriate boundaries and to stick to them.
#5 You Don’t Know What’s Important to Your Teen
Another common way that parents can drive their teens away is to be inattentive. It’s easy to be distracted when your teen needs to talk; you have the pressures of work, home, and the rest of your family pressing on you from all directions. It’s important to take the time to focus on your teenager, though. If your teen feels that you don’t care and that you don’t understand what’s important to him or her, they’re likely to seek emotional support elsewhere, and this might lead to shutting you out.
Parenting during the teen years is difficult, and it can take a careful balance to figure out how much attention your teenager needs. Having a heart-to-heart talk about it can help. Also, carve out time each week to spend one-on-one with your teenager and really listen to his or her words and body language. Let your teen know if you have concerns about your relationship and see what they say. You can also go to a family counselor, who can mediate discussions that are difficult to have. Don’t be afraid to call in a professional to help you better relate to your teen, as it might set the stage for how your relationship will go for the rest of your life.