RECOGNIZE WHAT TEENS HAVE TO OFFER
Copyright Dr. Carol Renaud Gaffney
December brings the winter solstice and marks
numerous secular and-religious activities that
join families and friends together. During this
time I wish you peace and joy and time to reflect
on your relationships with those with whom you
share your life.
The question of the month comes from the father
of a 15-year-old.
Q. My 15-year-old daughter does not like to involve
her mother in any activities, like her sophomore
semiformal, or really anything at all. Why is
this? She is a very bright child and a high achiever;
but does not have a good connection with her mom.
A. I will speculate as to why your daughter does
not want her mother involved, but your daughter
is really the one who has the answer to this question.
Fifteen-year-olds (sons and daughters) are going
through the stage in their lives when they are
trying to figure out who they are and how they
make their own way in the world. They are in the
stage of lessening their dependence on their family,
but still do not have all the skills to make it
on their own. They want their activities to be
their own, yet they want support from their families.
Also, teenagers may not have figured out how to
have relationships with both their friends and
their families - they may think they can only
have one or the other.
To add to these social and emotional changes,
physically they have natural drugs called hormones
going through their bodies. Hormones can cause
behavior and feelings to be quite unpredictable!
During this time of change and uncertainty (even
though they may seem to know it all), teenagers,
whether they are bright and good students or not,
are often confused about when to ask for help
and when to do it on their own.
When in doubt, they’ll usually do it on-their
own, and- unless well supported in their family,
keep the mistakes to themselves. This can begin
a cycle of emotional distancing that results in
bad tempers and arguing.
Parents may be having a tough time as well, especially
when they have a teenager of their- own for the
first time. Previously loving children may seem
to have taken on new and unbearable personalities.
They may seem knowledgeable and friendly one minute
and yet act like 2-year olds the next.
Parents who are unsure of themselves may vacillate
between being over-involved and throwing their
hands up in frustration. This is a breeding ground
for anxiety and hurt feelings, especially if parents
are taking their children's behavior personally.
Unfortunately, there are no set rules for managing
through the teenage years except to:
Stop to gather the facts. (What is really going
Think about the desired outcome. (How do I want
to get along?)
Assess yourself and your child. (Who am I? Who
Respond with age-appropriate behaviors. (Parents
act like adults and treat their teenagers as teenagers,
Problems between parents and children often occur
when parents are more involved with their children's
Lives than their children want them to be. Teenagers
are very sensitive about their own privacy and
unless you suspect that your child is involved
in dangerous behavior, respecting privacy is recommended.
When privacy is respected, teenagers often will
invite their parents into their world.
Parents need to be cautious of living vicariously
through their children. So if the semi-formal
is coming up and mom is more excited about it
than her daughter, you can understand why her
daughter might not want mom involved.
This is when I often hear teenagers say, "I
wish mom or dad would get a Life of his or her
own and leave me alone!"
If mom's comments about what to wear and what
to do seem critical rather than informational,
a daughter may resist mom’s input. The good
neighbor policy is especially helpful in raising
teenagers, so before offering advice, check first
to see if it's wanted.
As mentioned before, your daughter is the one
who has the answer to why she doesn't like to
involve mom. So, in the spirit of going with the
simplest solution, ask your daughter. The first
usual answer will be—you guessed it—
"I don't know."
Actually, kids know the answers but are so convinced
from experience that parents aren't going to listen
that they just find ways of avoiding the answer!
We in turn are so convinced that they are not
going to say anything that we have learned to
Try this instead. After she says, "I don’t
know," you can say, "You may not know
for sure but you have some idea why."
And then when you gently don't give up and she
finally starts saying something, however meager,
just say, "Thank you for telling me."
If time allows you can say, "I'd really like
to hear more." And then, listen - really
listen. No defending mom, no defending yourself,
no telling her she should think something else
or that you are disappointed in her. Just simply
thank her for saying whatever it is that is said.
Our teenagers have a lot to offer us. We can be
privy to who they are by respecting their experiences
and opinions in the same way we would like to
have ours respected.