Stephen Cowan, MD, Director of Health & Education

This is the fourth in a six-part series on the Five Phase Journey through Adolescence.

Let’s face it, transitions make us crazy.  You’re neither here nor there. One of the ways children move through the transitions of adolescence is by creating new relationships outside the family.  The loyalty of friends takes on increasingly important meaning in a teenager’s life. This new interest in social dynamics is a sure sign of the transition into the Earth stage which asks “How am I going to get through this?” Equally important, questions about “How am I fitting in?” take on a new sense of urgency, as if survival depends on it (and maybe it does). As the subculture of the teen emerges, it has the power to shape your child’s interests and desires. Your child may be privately grappling with peer pressure, bullying and gender identity. As they move out into their own peer group, they may become less willing to share their thoughts and interests with you. Try not to take this too personally. Maintaining open communication during adolescence can be challenging for any parent and child. Forced exchanges end up sounding like FBI interrogations and never work. What is critically important here is to create mini-opportunities for your teen’s voice to be heard within the safety of small talk that has no strings attached. These exchanges are the keys to empathy. That’s how we both learn what we need in order to grow.

Advice for parents:

  1. Develop a tradition of storytelling in your family. This is one the most powerful ways we strengthen family bonds. Telling stories about your feelings and your childhood experiences can help your children feel less alone, enabling them to build confidence by connecting to the big picture of their life.
  2. Go for a walk or drive with your child. Find opportunities that involve movement without demanding eye contact. This creates a safe place for your child to open up naturally without feeling coerced.
  3. There is a lot of misinformation being passed around among teenagers these days. Remember to listen openly to your child’s opinions. Be a voice of compassion and curiosity, not judgment and inquisition. You don’t need to have the solution for every problem they voice so don’t try to fix everything. Create an even playing field of trust through conversations, by exploring answers together.
  4. Connect feelings to needs. Feelings and emotions are natural expressions of our unmet needs. When your child can make this connection, they are much less likely to blame others for their feelings.  This reduces the tendencies to see themselves as victims, opening their hearts to empathy.  To power to imagine what another needs heals all conflicts and promotes healthy growth.
  5. Practice what you preach!  If you want your child to bond with you, consider asking their opinion about a problem you are having. This is a great way to gain their respect and let them feel like they are an important contributor to the family.