I Don’t Feel as Close to My Teen as Before
Posted Mar 30, 2007.
How do parent-child relationships change during adolescence? Is it normal to have these changes in my relationship with my teen?
You have watched your child go through many changes over the years, and it may seem to go even faster during the teen years. Adolescents undergo spurts of physical, emotional, and intellectual growth. With these changes, it’s normal to experience changes in your relationship as well. Parent-child relationships tend to go through a challenging phase during the teen years as kids assert their independence and begin making their own decisions.
Between the ages of 12 – 18, it is common for parents and teens to:
- Have more conflicts. Conflicts between parents and teens are normal. Research shows that most parent-teen arguments are about ordinary day-to-day things like clothing or chores. Sometimes, however, continuous or serious conflicts may signal deeper problems.
- Spend less time together. Adolescents typically spend less time with their parents and more time with their friends than when they were younger.
- Feel less “connected” to each other. Some degree of physical and emotional distance from parents is not unusual as a child enters adolescence.
What causes these changes?
One of the most important tasks for an adolescent is becoming independent. Your child will experience a growing desire to make her own decisions and may resent your authority over her personal life and activities. You may feel frustrated with this change, but she is learning how to “be her own person” while still staying connected to you.
Friends become more important during this stage. Your teens’ desire to spend more time with friends may create conflict if you want her to be more available for family activities. Your teen might also be more sensitive to attempts at controlling her social life compared to trying to influence her views on college, war, or global warming.
Teens are more willing to openly disagree with parents than when they were younger. In addition, they are learning more and getting better at thinking about things in more sophisticated ways. This sometimes means they get better at noticing when “what you say” and “what you do” don’t match. They also get better at using new knowledge and ways of thinking to express their views and argue their points.
Finally, teens go through swings in their moods, and may sometimes say or do things that are surprising or unpredictable. These may be due to both hormonal changes during puberty and changes in the way their brains are developing. All of these physical, social, mental, and emotional changes can come together to create challenges in your relationship.
But you are still very important to your teen!
Despite these changes, most teens still report good relationships with their parents, who remain one of the most important and influential figures in their lives. Parents enjoy relating to their teens in a new ways and are often proud of seeing them take on adult responsibilities. The relationship parents have with children plays an important role in a teen’s well-being. Severe conflicts can put teens at risk for mental health problems, while positive relationships can prevent risky behaviors with sex and drugs. Although it can sometimes be frustrating or difficult, parents need to stay connected and continue to provide support and structure for their teens.
Tips for promoting healthy parent-adolescent relationships
- Choose your battles. Research shows the most common topics that parent and adolescent argue over are everyday issues such as chores and curfews, rather than “big” issues such as drugs, sex, or moral values. It may be helpful to pause before you raise your voice and decide whether an issue is worth battling over.
- Show respect for your teen. Rather than “laying down the law” and expecting unconditional obedience, show respect and appreciation for your teen’s growing independence by giving reasons for rules, asking for your teen’s ideas and opinions, and including her in family decision-making processes.
- Communicate with your teen. Open and effective communication is a key to healthy parent-adolescent relationships. Research shows that adolescents and parents think very differently when it comes to how much of parental authority or control is legitimate! This may increase the likelihood of parents-teen conflicts. On the other hand, effective communication may reduce this gap between parents and teens, while increasing mutual understanding of expectations and appropriate boundaries.
For specific suggestions regarding communication with teen, see:
For suggestions regarding talking with teens about risk-taking behaviors and helping them make better decisions, see:
- Try to understand, recognize, and even expect your teen’s mood swings. Although it might be difficult, try not to take things said or done in the “heat of the moment” too personally.
- Make efforts to stay connected. Parents remain the most influential figure in teen’s life, even when your teen does not seem to be listening to you. Especially as you spend less time with your teen, it is crucial for you to make the most of the time you spend together. You can also make an effort to spend time together doing things both you and your teen enjoy. For example, having a regular family mealtime is found to have positive effects on children and promotes healthy parent-child relationships.
For specific suggestions, see:
- Take care of yourself. Emotional and physical well-being of the parents affects their interaction with their children. When you’re happier and are more relaxed, you can handle your teen’s challenging behaviors more effectively. If you have a spouse or partner, it might be a good time to invest in your relationship if your teen is not around as much or demanding less attention from you. For more information, see: