The teenage years are a period of intense growth, not only physically but also morally and intellectually. Understandably, it is a time of confusion and often conflict for many families. Although this is the case it is also a time to help kids grow into the distinct individuals they will become.

Often with adolescence comes a dramatic change in behaviour, as they start to move away from their parents and become more independent. Also at this time they are increasingly aware of how others, especially peers, see them and try hard to fit in. These peers often become more important when making decisions than their parents.

The primary goal of adolescence is to gain independence and for this to happen they will start pulling away from their parents, most often the parent they are closest to. Often they will not want to be around their parents the same way they used to.  As they are developing their moral code, often kids who have been willing to conform will start having their own opinions and asserting these.

How can you stay connected to your teen?

Recognize that your teen’s fierce need for independence doesn’t mean he/she can’t stay connected to you. If you can let your teen exercise his or her own judgment and be him or herself, rather than who you want them to be, they will be able to grow into age-appropriate independence without cutting you off.

Listen, empathize and keep advice to a minimum.  It doesn’t matter how good your advice is, every time you offer it you are giving your teen the message that they can’t solve problems themselves. Be a sounding board, not a prescriber and you’ll find your teen coming back for more.

Be available when your teen wants to talk.  For most teens that means late at night, you’ll be amazed at how much more your teen will open up in the wee hours. Most kids don’t keep an agenda and bring things up at a scheduled meeting and nothing makes them clam up faster than pressing them to talk. Kids talk when something is up for them, particularly if you’ve proven yourself to be a good listener. If you push them to open up, they feel they have to defend their independence by keeping secrets from you.  For tips on surviving adolescents The Royal College of Psychiatrists have some really good tool-kits.

This can be difficult if you’re also handling a demanding job and other responsibilities. However, kids who feel that other things are more important to their parents often look elsewhere when they’re emotionally needy.

Don’t take it personally. Your teenager slams the door to the bedroom. Screaming, “I hate you, you never understand!”  DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY!  This isn’t primarily about you it’s about them, their tangled up feelings, their difficulty controlling themselves, their immature ability to understand and express their emotions. Taking it personally wounds you, which means you do what we all do when hurt, either close off, lash out or both. This just worsens a tough situation for all concerned.