Teens Trying Their Wings

Transitioning teens through detachment

By Angela Switzer

Transitioning teensDo you find yourself enmeshed in your teenager’s life?  Are you worrying constantly about her relationships and her Facebook page?  Not surprisingly, some parents may not realize the extent of their emotional attachment to their teen’s world.

During your child’s early years, you were probably exposed to the philosophy of Attachment Parenting, the importance of being available for your child, so she felt loved and was able to develop healthy trusting relationships.   Having grown up now, your teen still needs you and the relationship you’ve fostered, but what does it mean to detach, and why is this a healthy stage of development for both you and your teen?

Detachment, or “letting go” is a gradual process and one that requires effort and intention by the parent in a variety of ways.  Your teen is becoming independent.  Hopefully, she has her own opinions, which may not match your own.  She is no longer an extension of you and your family, but a unique human, with different priorities and goals.  Some parents have a hard time understanding their teen, if her ideas do not align with their own.  Rather than try to change your teen, try acceptance and detachment.

Trust plays a big role on the road to detachment. Think of detachment as a way to relax and trust that your child has “got this”.  Do not be afraid of failure on the part of your child.  It is better for your teen to make mistakes and realize consequences while she is still living at home, rather than face them for the first time later on her own.

In reality, parents who worry constantly about their teen children are doing everyone a disservice.  They are often not sleeping, feeling ashamed of the choices their child is making, and showing that they do not respect their teen’s growing independence.  This worry and nagging adds to the stress level in the home and does not bolster a sense of confidence in the teen.

Detachment does not mean ceasing to engage with your teen.  You are there should she need your help, but you are not there when she can handle things.   Giving your teen the opportunity to make difficult decisions is a gift.  Stepping back and watching from afar may be outside your comfort zone, but you will get used to your new role.

Intervention may be necessary if your teen is engaging in risky or destructive behavior, including drugs and alcohol.  Even so, in a situation where your teen is clearly making mistakes, detaching from the shame of her choices is important for both of you.  Remember, you are not responsible for the choices your teen makes.

Your self-image need not be joined to your teen’s decisions.  Knowing that your teen is travelling her own path now, helps parents with their own sense of self, apart from their child.

Are your emotional needs being met outside of the relationship with your teen?  Sometimes parents have a hard time letting go because their own emotions are entangled in their child’s world.

Are you in the role of doing too much for your teen or fixing everything?  Many parents are.  It may not be that your child can’t do something for herself, it may be that you actually enjoy doing it because your sense of self-worth is attached to being needed.  Now is the time for reacquainting with yourself and figuring out your role as an individual, not just as someone’s parent.

Listening to your teen and respecting her as an adult can have lasting benefits to your relationship.  Young adults want to be heard and treated as equals.  When you respect her intellect, you give her a boost of self-confidence.  Alternately, when you constantly correct her, or give her advice, you are giving her a vote of no confidence and showing her you think her ideas are juvenile.  Having a strong sense of self goes a long way in your teen’s attitude and positive outlook.

Respecting your teen’s right to privacy is a sign that you are detaching.  While many parents actually thrive on knowing the ins and outs of their child’s social life, this is not necessarily a healthy pattern. Let your child have her own relationships. You can provide empathy when your teen has been let down by a relationship, but her feelings of sadness should not translate to your own.

Share your own interests with your teen.  You are moving into a more adult relationship, where it is no longer a one-way street.  You may be surprised to find that the more you detach, the more your teen seeks you out.  She will take the lead in letting you know how much she wants to involve you in her life.  By giving her the freedom to make that decision, you are giving her space to breathe.

Remarkably, this process of detachment is very satisfying.  You are able to trust your child to follow her own path and to make her own decisions. That frees up a significant amount of mental energy for other more worthwhile endeavors besides useless worrying. Detachment is a process, not one that can happen overnight, but it is the best way for both parent and child to move forward, fostering a healthy new relationship, while honoring everyone in the process.

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