They still need and crave your presence. Even when they refuse you, tell you to stop. They need to know (and feel) that you care. That you see them, that you hear them. Less lecturing and more eye-to-eye contact - a soft gaze that makes them feel loved and safe. Ask their opinions on things, hear their stories and appreciate when they share stories with you. The small things can open up the pathway to "bigger" and important conversations later on.
And sometimes they only need you to sit closer and be silent with them.
Most families and teens I know, and have worked with, have a hard time keeping the closer connection once they become adolescents - most parents grieve the “end of childhood” when kids turn into teenagers, and most teens resent that their parents don’t “get them” or they feel pressured to become adults (work, make money, take care of siblings, get lots of extra curricular activities for college prep and so on).
Your adolescent still needs and craves your attention, presence, patience and care. They need to feel relaxed in your presence. Not judged, labeled or feeling like a burden.
I have had many teenagers bringing up their constant feeling of being a burden to their parents, or not even feeling safe to share their thoughts and experiences fearing a punishment, or being judged, shamed.
They are not adults, no matter how much you want them to “mature”, so check your expectations on them too. For many decades, society had a view on adolescence as this "limbo" period of time: they are not kids, and they are not adults! So what do we do?
Now, thanks to new discoveries in brain science, neurobiology findings of the teen's brain, we know that they are going through a very intense brain rewiring process, pruning and creating an enormous amount of new neurons and pathways. They have a high-intense emotional brain (limbic system is in full force) and lack the mastery of abilities such as planning, critical thinking, emotional and impulse control, to name a few - as the prefrontal cortex is still developing.
The interesting part is that, as parents of teens, we also grieve not having a baby on our lap and telling how much they love us, following our directions, wearing what we set aside. We miss the baby times, the cuteness and feeling like they need us. Then suddenly, a teenager is there , right in front of you, and many parents have no clue how to connect with. They are more independent, they push you away when you try to "baby them". So you feel lost. You start seeing them as mini-adults, creating unrealistic expectations, and parenting based on your pain, or your experience growing up.
And during all that disconnection, you are missing out on getting to discover a phenomenal child right in front of you: your teenager! I know teens have a stigma in our society of being difficult. I have one teenager at home. They can be moody, dramatic, “know-it-alls”. The more I learn about teens, the more I am in awe of them. They are incredibly creative, risk takers, energetic, resilient and emotional beings that can pour their hearts into anything they feel connected to.
Get to know them again. Ask opinions, share stories, hug and kiss them too - always respecting their privacy and sensory preferences, of course. Invite them out for their favorite meal or drinks (of course I am not suggesting alcohol!). Be ready to listen without trying to "fix" anything. Just listen to them. Be curious, and make sure to show your presence often and unconditionally.
I hope that you, just like me, start to see your teen as this wonderful person learning about life and the world. I hope that you, just like me, start to enjoy having your teen closer to you, to get to know them more. I hope that you, just like me, start to fall in love with your teen today!
Not only the love from parents we expect, but get to know them for who they are now, so you can confidently tell them:
“I love you and I really really like who you are”
Lets map. I can help!
Flavia Nazareth - is a mom of a teen, an Art Therapy Practitioner, Certified Parent Coach, Teen Coach Specialist and trauma-informed coach for teens and adults. She has trainings and certifications in youth anxiety and depression, including child's grief and loss. She is the founder and owner of Little Blank Canvas Art Studio and MAP - Mindful Art Practices/Mindful Art of Parenting.
Flavia was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and lives with her husband, daughter and her adorable dog Sparky in North Carolina, USA. When she is not at the Art Studio or working at MAP, she is traveling, reading, or hanging out with her daughter Olivia.