So, as we spoke about in my last post, separating from parents is a crucial task for the adolescent. But such separation can leave a teen feeling stranded and unmoored. So at the same time as this is going on, they are simultaneously further attaching to friends.
Attaching to friends doesn’t just mean spending more time with the same people they’ve been with since pre-K. It means learning whom to trust, it means testing peers for truth, for loyalty, for values.
It is particularly true with girls (although certain boys can fall into this pattern, too), that your teen will exhibit a need for constant contact and reassurance from other girls, often in the form of late-night phone calls, constant texting, more sleep-overs than you find necessary or particularly inviting, as the host. However, this is an important step in the developmental process.
So it’s important not to punish your child by isolating them, in the oh-so-many ways parents have developed to achieve this end: grounding them, taking away their phones, forcing them into so much babysitting of the younger children that they can never make it to social events.
It’s also interesting to note, and I’ve seen it again and again, that if parents make all their child’s choices when they are young children, the adolescents will just shift to having her peers make her choices. So, early on, get used to encouraging your child to achieve some independence and to make her own way, as much as is appropriate.
What happens, you might, very rightly, ask, if my child has picked a friend who is a poor choice for her? You might not like this answer, but I offer it to you with wisdom of experience and my practice behind it: You might find a way to gently say that you feel your teen has made a poor selection, but s/he will just have to make his/her own mistakes. There are so many things you can’t control once your child is in 9th grade–the time for parent-arranged playdates is way over.
Also know that if your child can’t trust you, s/he will seek out others, and you might not be all that impressed with what they offer. You must earn your child’s trust; it’s no longer automatic. I would encourage you to try some of the following suggestions that I have found helpful:
- Keep your child’s confidences. That is true even in regards to siblings (although it is not true regarding the other parent).
- Find something nice to say when your teen shares with you. Don’t mock.
- Although it’s unnatural, try to see things from your teen’s point of view, not an adult’s. It isn’t easy, but it can make all the difference in the world in opening up the lines of communication.
- Do not insult your adolescent’s friends, weight, clothing, academic choices (do you see a pattern here? Criticism will doom your relationship).
- Learn about your teen’s friends and their conversations first-hand. Make your home a pleasant and open place for friends to visit and hang out, drive home from gatherings, make yourself accessible for school social functions; all of these will enable you to get to know what’s going on in your teen’s life without constant prying.
The more you can enable your child’s healthy attachment to friends, the more you encourage growth into adulthood.