Although it's totally normal for your child to become a little more distant as they navigate through their teenage years, it's not easy adjusting to the fact that they don't want to hang out with you as much.
It might seem like only yesterday they loved spending time with you, but nowadays they’re more interested in their friends and mobile phone than being with their family.
You may we wondering how to react when you’ve always encouraged them to think for themselves, but now you fear they aren’t respecting your boundaries. And, maybe you’re worried about preying too much into their lives, as you know the importance of giving them space.
Loose Women presenter Nadia Sawalha encounters the same issues with her teenage daughters. Sharing a picture of herself and daughter to Instagram, Nadia captioned the photo: “WE DON’T TALK ANYMORE”.
Her caption continued: “When is it right to leave them space, when is it right to intervene? Sometimes it’s a thankless task but in the end what things will our kids reflect on and thank us for, and where should we let go of the reins?
“Maddie & Kiki used to hang on our every word and @mark_adderley silliness – but now it’s sometimes hard to crack a smile – or get them to open up. Are they embarrassed of us? Are we asking the wrong questions? Should we leave them well alone???”
We’ve spoken to family counsellors and therapists who’ve share their top tips on how to navigate parenting teens – without driving them away.
Firstly, remind yourself what teenagers are going through
Teenagers are going through so many changes that are affecting them physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially- so, try not to take their behaviour too personally.
Remember how your emotions were all over the place when you were a teenager? During puberty, the brains release hormones into the bloodstream which cause physical changes in the bodies. These hormones can affect teenagers’ moods, emotions, and impulses – leaving them moody and sometimes unpredictable.
As well as dealing with these hormonal changes, your child is also having to deal with the knock-on physical affect this will have on their developing bodies.
This may make them self-conscious, embarrassed and perhaps withdrawn at times.
And, if you’re annoyed that your child is struggling to get out of bed in the morning, it’s worth remembering that many experts agree teenagers need a lot more sleep as they deal with these changes. In fact, in 2016 schools in Seattle changed their start time so teenagers could have a longer lie in as researches argued it would be ‘more in line with the natural wake-up times of adolescents’.
Developments in the brain may also be the reason behind your teenager’s grouchy, moody and risk-taking behaviour.
According to neurologist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, the brain is undergoing a huge about of change, and these alterations most likely explain some of the typical rebellious behaviours you may be experiencing when parenting teens.
Psychotherapist and relationship expert, Lucy Beresford told GoodtoKnow: “Reductions in grey matter in the brain means teenagers have less capacity for planning, impulse control and reasoning. This is why teenage decisions and choices can look baffling to grown-ups.”
Peer pressure and exam stress
Along with these hormonal and physical challenges, there’s no doubt that teenagers are under a huge amount of social pressure as well.
Parenting teens: Give them space and make them feel trusted
At times, you may feel like your child is rejecting you as they seek their own independence.
Family therapist Helena Lewis encourages parents: “to accept that their teenager wants to spend more time alone or with their peers.”
When parenting teens, Lucy advises care-givers “to give them lots of space, to grow their own ideas and values and opinions.”
She continued, “It is a healthy, normal stage of development for teens to begin to look beyond parents and outside the family for their identity, values and opinions.”
The teenage years are a time of experimentation. Your teenage children may want to go to parties with their peers, and may be exposed to drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. It’s important to approach these subjects openly and discuss what is right or wrong.
Helena adds, “At the end of the day, your teenager is going to go out, and you aren’t always going to feel good about it, but you need to trust them.
“Pushing against them at every turn will only do more harm than good. Allowing them a certain amount of freedom will make them feel trusted.”
Parenting teens: Dealing with these common scenarios
‘My child just rolls their eyes when I try set boundaries’
Getting your teen to listen to you when you try to set boundaries has a lot to do with respect in your relationship. Pick the right time to approach your teen and speak to them about issues you may be having with their behaviour.
Certified parenting and youth educator, Andrea Rippon, advises, “Go to your teenager and ask if you can talk to them – wait until they are ready to listen to you. Be prepared with what you want to say – and cut the amount of words you might use. Teenagers like their parents to be brief!”
Most teens like to push the boundaries and may make mistakes along the way. But, when parenting teens it’s important to pick your battles carefully to avoid unnecessary family drama in your home.
Lucy said: “If it’s answering back, try to take it in your stride and accept that your little child is no more. If it’s refusing to stick to coming home-time rules, abusing substances, or being physically threatening, then you need to be tougher.
“If these boundaries are broken you can ‘remove privileges, such as going to that party, or confiscating their phone, and be consistent with your message about what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour”.
‘My teenager spends most of their time in their room and isn’t interested family time’
You might think your teenager is spending all their time in their room to avoid communicating with you, but it’s vital they have their privacy as they try to figure out who they are.
Dr Marie Le Page Paediatric consultant at MyHealthcare Clinic explains, “Try not to take it personally. It probably isn’t about you. They are learning who they are and establishing their own identity – and their peers, rather than you, are likely to be their main influence.”
Although your child may be distancing themselves from you, it’s crucial that your teen is aware you are there for them if they do want to talk.
“That way, they are less likely to be scared of speaking to you if there’s a serious problem, such as bullying or abuse,” Dr Page explains.
‘My child is withdrawn and upset but won’t tell me what’s wrong’
As a parent it’s important you stay calm and consistent whatever mood they are in. They are much more likely to come to you when there are issues if you can do this. If your teenager does open up to you, let them lead the conversation and listen to what they have to say without being judgemental.
Helena advises, “Ask them what is on their mind and how they think it should be solved, and share ideas with them. This way, your child feels like they are being listened to and respected.”
‘Where can I get more help if I’m worried about my teenager?’
If you are worried your teen may be distancing themselves from you because of a serious issue such as an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts or another mental health issue, there are a number of professional charities and organisations that can help.
- YoungMinds – YoungMinds is a mental health charity dedicated to children and teenagers. Your teens can visit the youngminds.org.uk website to search for practical advice for dealing with common teenage problems such as bullying, problems at school, or exam stress.
- Kooth – Kooth is a mental health support service offering teens easy access to an online community of peers and a team of experienced counsellors to talk to. It’s a totally free service and can be accessed via their website xenzone.com.
- Youth Access – Youth Access is the organisation for young people’s information, advice and counselling services.
- Family Lives – A charity specialising in families. Parents can call their confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222 for advice and support if you are struggling while parenting teens.
- FRANK – If you are concerned your child may be using drugs, FRANK offers honest and helpful advice for parents, guardians and children. You can call FRANK on 03001236600 or if you would rather use their online chat this can be accessed via talktofrank.com.
If you need more support about parenting teens, speak to your family GP or call YoungMinds parents helpline on 0808 802 5544 for specific advice and support.