Research is now revealing just how important relationships are, even from the start of life. Infants are looking to their parents for reflection, affection, and attention. They need long moments of loving gaze to help them build a strong foundation for a healthy self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-regulation – or knowing how to manage emotions in a healthy way. A loving, nurturing, and safe relationship between infant and parent sets the tone for the rest of a child’s life.
However, even if a teen didn’t get this as a child, it’s never too late to form healthy relationships. It’s never too late for a teen to get the love, attention, and emotional intimacy they perhaps didn’t get as an infant. In fact, many at risk youth today are those that experienced hardship in their early life. They may have experienced abuse, witnessed domestic violence, or grew up in a family with addiction. Without the right support, a child may have never overcome those hardships and may be struggling in their adolescence.
When teens struggle, whether with addiction or mental illness or school performance, a significant contributing factor to overcoming those challenges is the presence of an adult in their life they can trust. But it’s not only having a relationship a teen can trust, it’s also having a relationship in which a teen feels seen, heard, and understood. A teen who feels that there is an adult who believes in them and who sees the potential in them succeeds.
A respectful, trustworthy, caring relationship between a teen and an adult can do the following for a teen:
- Provide them with social interactions that lead to meaningful experiences
- Provide them with a bond that helps them understand and identify their emotions
- Models for them healthy behavior that they may not have seen as a child
- Gives them new social and relational experiences that help build neural connections in the brain that perhaps they did not have before.
- Serves as a teen’s source of comfort, a relationship that a teen can come back to when in need
- Can serve as a teen’s regulating system if as a child a teen never learned how to do that for themselves
For these reasons and more, it’s important that a teen, especially one that may be at-risk, to have an adult in their life. If you’re a parent or caregiver of an at-risk teen or an adolescent vulnerable to mental illness, consider finding an adult that your teen can have a meaningful relationship with. This might be through mentoring, therapy, or even within a support group. Of course, you might be the person in your teen’s life who can provide this kind of relationship. And if you’d like this, but your teen is resistant to working on the parent-teen relationship, you might consider family therapy as a means to strengthen the bond between the two of you.
Positive relationships are essential for a child’s healthy development. And if a teen didn’t get this when they were younger, it’s never too late to start.