When a teen reaches about age 13 or 14 they begin to enter a stage in life where they will reach for their independence. As you already know, a teenager is at a unique crossroads. They are at the uncomfortable intersection between being a child, under the influence of parents and teachers, and being an adult, attempting to find a sense of autonomy.
Finding a sense of identity is the task that teens are attempting to achieve in adolescence. They are slowly letting go of their identity as a child and discovering who they are as an adult. Parents and caregivers can support the safe transition between childhood and adulthood and help their teens who they are in the world. Yet, without the right amount of encouragement, support, and reinforcement, adolescents might remain unsure of themselves. They might feel lost and not know their path into adulthood. Here are a few ways you can support your teen in achieving the most important psychological task of adolescence:
Give your child physical and emotional space. He or she will attempt to do that anyway as they try to find their place in the world. But you can remember to do that consciously. For example, your son gets home from school, and you ask him about his day. He used to tell you in detail who he spent time with, what he had for lunch, and what he doesn’t like about his teachers. Now he responds in a low voice, “Good”. The change in the way he responds to you is a natural part of the emotional separation he must go through to become a well-adjusted adult.
Choose your battles wisely. Most of your adolescent’s behaviors, in their attempt to find their individuality, are actually insignificant. They might want to dye their hair green, wear pants that hang embarrassingly low, pierce their nipples, or create chaos in their bedroom. All of those situations are temporary and can be easily repaired. However, if your child is ready to get married, have sex, or get a tattoo, those are the discussions to have and fight for if you have to.
Address any potential mental health concerns. Some teens have a hard time during adolescence. They might be vulnerable to mental illness. If you want to help your teen make a smooth transition into adulthood, take care of any mental health concerns they may have. If your teen is struggling with depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder, for instance, he or she may turn to unhealthy coping tools such as drugs, early sexual activity, or other risky behavior. Tending to your teen’s mental health will keep them safe.
Keep your relationship strong. During this time, your teen is going to pull away in many ways. However, as best you can, try to keep your relationship strong by keeping the doors of communication open, spending regular time together, and let your teen know that you’re there for them especially when it gets rough. Remember that although your teen is breaking away, that doesn’t mean it’s time to let them go completely. Be there for your child when he or she needs it. Let them know you love them and that you’re there with them through all the changes they’re going through.
These are suggestions for supporting your teen through the challenges of adolescence. You’ll need to find the balance between letting them go and holding them close.