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Thursday, 22 March 2001

Parents and Teens: Can You See Each Other?

Written by  Naomi Zelwer

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Teenagers sometimes feel as if they are caught in a No Man's Land between childhood and adulthood. Wanting to have arrived as adults but not yet having the requisite life experience to temper their views of the world and the way it should be.

No longer children, but not quite mature enough to be considered adults.

Wanting responsibility but perhaps not yet ready to embrace all its consequences.

Desperate to test and challenge the borders of their world but not wanting to abandon the place they call home - a physical and emotional refuge to return to.

Parents of teenagers may find themselves in a similar void, bouncing between two opposing poles. Recognizing cognitively that their precious baby has grown up and does not need their concerned protection to the same degree that was once required.

Yet on an emotional level, they are reluctant to relinquish the image of a vulnerable child stumbling out into a world fraught with potential disappointment and danger.

As both teenagers and their parents struggle to define their own roles in life and in the changing relationship between them, friction is often a result.

How can it be resolved?

To a certain extent, it is probably better if the friction is not completely resolved.

"That's you, but this is me."

In establishing their identities, teens often have a need to push against the limits set by parents. It helps them establish where they begin and end as separate entities to their parents. They need and want to tell their parents "That's you, but this is me."

That may be difficult for parents to hear but it is vital for parents to allow their children the space and expression to be individuals. Bouncing off their parents' values and rules also helps teens define their own positions and views and comfort zones. A certain amount of conflict between parents and teens is a healthy and natural stage of development.

So what do each party need to do to ensure that this process is facilitated yet does not escalate into a bitter, resentful relationship?

Parents need to give space and trust to allow their teenager's process of individuation. To take time out to respect and admire their teenager's adventurous spirit and willingness to take risks. To communicate to their teenager that they trust, respect and like them. And no matter how anxiety provoking, parents need to give their teenagers responsibility, without constant advice and warnings.

Teenagers, for their part, need to give proper consideration to input and guidance from their parents. It helps knowing that usually, no matter how clumsy or interfering they come across, parents have their children's best interests at heart.

Teenagers have to communicate a respect for their parents' choices while still stressing their need to make their own decisions.

And then be prepared to own the consequences. In so doing, they encourage their parents' support which in turn will help them have the confidence to experiment and create their own unique and separate identity.

Most of all, both parents and their teenagers need to communicate in an honest, open and non-accusatory way. And they need to forgive each other.


Last modified on Sunday, 08 May 2011 08:59
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Naomi Zelwer

Naomi Zelwer has a BA in Psychology and Sociology and has had further training in counseling, specializing in issues specific to adolescents. She lives with her husband and daughter.

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