Supporting teens as they pull away

Supporting Teens As They Pull Away

Published on: November 17, 2021   |   Last updated on:

“Okay, Boomer!” has become a shorthand way for kids to throw shade at adults who are trying to be relevant to their generation. It’s nothing new teenagers throughout time have pulled away from adults and created their own, almost underground, network of communication.

Even before Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok, teens found ways to hide from adults, and when that failed, to show their teeth to scare adults away. 

Ironically, though, every teenager needs adults to be involved in their life. 

One thing that every kid does when they begin adolescence is to start pulling away from their primary caregivers whether parents, grandparents or guardians. There’s a fancy term for what they’re doing, it’s called individuation

Simply put, it’s an evolutionary survival mechanism that helps them find their way and become self-sufficient before they inevitably get kicked out of their nest and face life on their own. Any parent who’s raised teenagers knows about closed doors, eye rolls, and short, one-word answers to their questions.

While many parents feel sad, frustrated, or disappointed during those years, common wisdom reminds them that their kids will return to them and to a close relationship eventually. Until then, they’re moving out into the world on their own, without the wisdom they need yet to make good decisions. 

Teenagers need adults engaged in their life for several reasons:

  • Adult presence reduces the risk that kids will make poor or harmful choices especially relating to substance use. When parents are present, when teachers chaperone school events, or when adults create community events for kids and stay on-site, kids can get the good parts (social interaction) and avoid the bad parts (substance use, risky behaviors).
  • Adults can model what healthy behavior and wholehearted living look like in 3-D. Kids need to see multiple examples of adults who are confident, who serve others, who are generous with their time and attention, and who relate well with others. They need to see people other than their parents demonstrate healthy adult behaviors like resolving conflict, managing time effectively, or practicing hospitality. Without those examples, they’ll have a harder time making their way to those qualities on their own.
  • Adults can be effective mirrors to reflect who kids are becoming. Because their peers are still on their own journey to find acceptance, compliments and affirmation are in short supply. It’s not common for teenagers to encourage each other to become better versions of themselves, pursue service, or take risks to express their unique identity. That’s what adults can do for a kid, though. Because they have broader life experience, they can play a meaningful role in the formation of a kid into a healthy adult by offering feedback on the good parts they observe. 

Kids need their parents and caregivers, and they need other adults teachers, neighbors, family friends, bosses, and coaches. They need those adults to take a sincere interest in them, to move towards them and have conversations with them, no matter how awkward it might feel.

If you’re a parent, you might consider asking people in your circle to do just that with your kid.

And, if you’re an educator, know that you have a vital role to play not just in their education but in the development of who they’re becoming.

Conversations to have with your kids


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