Loving Your Teens (even when they push you away)

Sitting in the principal’s office, I have a special window into the lives of many families. Just this morning, a mom came into my office completely exasperated. Just seconds before, I heard her daughter say “Stop! Don’t follow me in, go away!” I glanced up to see her daughter trying to balance the cake for cooking class, her backpack, a water bottle and other random things in her hand. The mom came in and sat down, exhausted at just 9am in the morning. As she flopped into a chair in my office, she said “I just don’t even know what to do anymore. I’m always wrong.”

This scenario plays out daily right outside my office. Middle school and early teen years are a challenge. Your adorable, happy and delightful ten year old has turned into a demon, possessed by sudden flips of emotion you can’t even attempt to predict. Yesterday’s cool mom is today’s “most embarrassing mom on the planet.”

Parenting through these years is like riding a roller coaster in the dark, backwards. The hills and valleys are unpredictable, wild and extreme. How does one develop a teen into a self-confident, autonomous and trustworthy young adult without coming totally undone?

Keep loving, even when they push you away

The five year old that needed a hug and a band aid is still hidden inside there, but the pains are buried deep and the emotional punches hurt more than the scraped knee. Keep loving your young teen with hugs, sneaky kisses on top of the head and even tucking him in at bedtime. He may ignore you, laugh and tell you he’s too big for that. But on the inside, he’s smiling that you still care.

Be the designated driver
Knowing your child’s friends is crucial to setting up a lasting and trustworthy relationship. But nobody gains “cool mom” status by trying to play video games with the boys or joining the girls’ slumber party chat. The best way to gain favor, meet your child’s friends and eavesdrop into their world is to be the designated driver. Soccer carpool? Friday at the movies? School field trip? Be there, drive and listen in.

Enforce family time… sparingly
Families have traditions and connections that keep them close. Family time provides a grounded connection to relationships and reminds teens that they have a safe place to fall when they have troubles with friends or at school. Once a week game night or a Saturday family breakfast may end up replacing nightly family dinners, as activities and extracurricular demands take over. Too much mandatory family time can backfire though, leaving teens frustrated at the constant invasion of privacy and absorption of social time. Enforce family time, but be reasonable about the expectation of how much time everyone can commit as they grow older.

Fight but fight fair
If you want your young teen to learn to combat peer pressure, stick up for herself and be an upstander, you have to teach her how to fight. Unfortunately, this means you have to teach her how to fight with YOU first. It took a lot of coaching my son knows now that if I say “Probably not, but make your case,” he has an opportunity to debate with evidence and logic. A simple “I’d like to go to the movies and Michael’s mom will drive. I will take my phone and call when we are on our way home” will be met with consideration. A foot-stomping “But I wanna!” whine, will not get the results he desires.

Argue fairly, with facts and reasonableness on both sides, along with an open mind. Be willing to change your opinion. When you change your mind after a reasonable argument, you show your teen how to be fair, accept a change, and admit a mistake when necessary.

Be the bad guy
Explain often that you are willing to be the bad guy whenever he gets himself into a sticky situation. Young teens, in particular, haven’t always developed the skills to say “That’s a stupid idea and there’s no way I’m doing it” when faced with a peer pressure situation they’d like to avoid. Let your teen blame you and play along when it makes sense. A “My dad is totally crazy- he searches my bag when I get home from the mall- I definitely can’t take that” lets your teen save face and helps them navigate a complicated social dynamic without losing friends.

What are your strategies for loving your young teen? How do you keep your relationship strong during the rocky teen years?


Tracy Chatters

Tracy Chatters is a California charter school principal, teacher and a homeschooler with more than 16 years experience in education. Her primary focus is helping families find educational solutions for children who do not fit in a traditional box. When she’s not working, Tracy enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, reading and baking.

4 thoughts on “Loving Your Teens (even when they push you away)

  • October 5, 2015 at 9:49 am

    Such good advice! Many teens need to push parents away as part of their natural path into independence and autonomy; your tips integrate a great balance between acceptance while setting boundaries/expectations of appropriate behavior, empowering our adolescents with coping strategies, and above all – always providing lots of love!

  • October 8, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Great topic – I really like your idea of being willing to play the bad guy. (But then sometimes I really *am* the bad guy…) My teen challenge of the week is the unusually high volume of things that are being lost and forgotten. Mindfulness and self-organizing skills have fallen to the wayside. Should this frustrated parent step in? Let it go? Any words of wisdom would be very welcome… 😉

  • October 13, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Great advice! I am going to save this for when my kids become teenagers!

  • November 13, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    The temptation is to walk away, to throw up your hands and surrender. You wouldn’t be alone if you did. Many parents want to give up and do. Unable to take the pain any longer, they protect themselves by pretending it doesn’t matter. Their child screams, “Leave me alone!” and so they just do what he says, removing themselves emotionally from his life.

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