As kids older, their minds change quickly and that’s because their brain is still developing rapidly. I often use the metaphor of teaching a kid how to ride a bike. If you’re running alongside them, it can be hard to know when you should take your hands off and let them go on their own. As they get older, it can feel this way and I see a lot of parents who feel a bit lost and confused about when they should take their hands off and let them do it on their own. Teen behavior changes quickly and often and I find parents growing concerned with certain behaviors. Here are some behaviors that I, as a therapist consider to be completely normal and natural when it comes to teens and some suggestions on different ways to look at them.
- Spending less time with the family – A lot of parents get upset or unhappy when their teen starts to spend less and less time with the family and shows a decreased interest in family activities, vacations, etc. It usually starts to show up around age 14 or 15 and by the time they start approaching 18 years old, they are virtually absent. This is normal. If you look back at your teen years, you probably wanted to spend less time with your family and more time with friends and out doing fun things. Keep the invitations open but let them opt out when they want to be alone or spend time with friends.
- Spending time alone when they are at home – A lot of parents feel like if their teen is at home, they should be spending at least some of the time with the family or being with the family and don’t like it when their teen spends time in their room or doing their own thing. It’s normal for them to leave the dinner table as soon as they are done eating or disappear from the things that the family is doing together. It’s normal if they come home and go straight to their room and stay there for long periods of time. They seek independence and they like to do their own thing and make their own decisions so try not take it personally when they check out.
- Want privacy – As teenagers grow older they get more and more irritable if their personal space is violated. Privacy is a high value to teenagers and the days when you could just barge into their room completely unannounced are over. A lot of parents might interpret this to mean that they are doing things that they aren’t supposed to be doing. If they are doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing, barging in and catching them in the act isn’t an effective way of handling it. They aren’t little kids anymore and this approach is less effective for teens. Even if they are just quietly reading a book, knocking before you enter and respecting their space and privacy could go a long ways. It’s normal for them to want people to respect their space and privacy. But this brings me to my next bullet point…
- They will do things that you don’t want them to do – Almost all teenagers go against what their parents want them to do in one way or another. My parents did not want me watching “The Simpsons” when I was a kid but of course I did it anyway. Perhaps my rule breaking was sometimes a little bit more egregious than that but it’s a simple example. They are going to do things that you don’t want them to do, they are going to do things that you tell them not to do. This is part of growing up. It’s normal for them to push limits and break rules. However, it can get problematic if they are doing things that are dangerous, illegal or have major consequences. In my case, watching “The Simpsons” did not have any major consequences, despite what my parents thought.
- They won’t listen to you or take your advice – A lot of the time when I talk to teenagers, their parents get frustrated because a lot of the things I tell the kids, are things that their parents had already tried to tell them before. It’s normal for kids to tune out their parents. Teenagers just don’t want to take your advice. I don’t know that there is a good reason for this, they just don’t. If you think about your own teen years, you probably tuned your parents too. But a lot of parents take it kind of hard when their kids just tune them out even if what they are telling them is legitimately helpful. Parents also get frustrated when their teen goes against their advice and something bad happens as a result. Don’t take it personally, they just want to do their thing their way, sometimes good parenting is letting your kids make mistakes.
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