You may find yourself asking this question if you’re the parent of a 12- to 16-year-old.
Suddenly, the sweet, loving kid you used to know has been replaced by this … this being that grunts one-word answers, holes up in his room for hours, and spurns any show of affection from you.
No doubt about it. The ’tween and teen years can be tough on parents. I know. I went through it, and my step-daughter came back to me. Yours will too, given some patience and understanding … okay, a lot of patience and understanding.
“Communication is going to go one-way for a while,” advises Lori Marro Homes, a parent educator at Youth Eastside Services who specializes in adolescent issues. “Their developmental path is to pull away from us. It’s normal, healthy and temporary.”
Lori tells us that after kids get through some developmental milestones – first car, first job, first romantic relationship – that urge to pull away from parents eases up considerably. With that amount of freedom, they don’t have to try so hard to separate. They’re making their unique statement in the world.
Speaking of freedom, how much is too much? When are they old enough to go without a chaperone? Or date? Or stay out until midnight? Or get a cell phone, credit card, car? Every parent has heard the “everyone else is doing it” refrain.
Adolescents need to earn their freedom by showing responsibility, whether around chores at home, or doing their school work or being on time.
Then the parents can say, “You’ve shown me that you are able to handle this.”
In doling out freedoms, it’s best to be slow and incremental. If your teenage son or daughter is pressuring you for more liberties than you feel comfortable giving, that’s a subject for negotiation.
If you can’t reach a compromise, you can agree to disagree. The important thing is to keep the door to communication open, even in the heat of an argument: “We’re both angry. Let’s take a break and come back to this when we’re both calmer” versus “I don’t care what you do. You never listen to me anyway.”
Lori cautions parents against saying things that can sever a future relationship, because – surprise, surprise – your teen is listening.
“In my experience, most teens won’t give you that verbal acknowledgement, but they are hearing you,” she says. “They will act on your input or advice.”
So continue to be your child’s main cheerleader. Say “I love you.” Ask “How was your day?” And give them sincere compliments: “You really handled that situation well.”
And someday soon you’ll get more than a grunt in response.
I guarantee it.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is the executive director of Youth Eastside Services. For more information, call 425-747-4937 or go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.