Adolescent Presence – When is the Distance a Concern?
It’s normal to feel distant from your adolescent. To not know how to handle them or their extreme mood swings. Adolescents are desperately trying to establish themselves, to find out who they really are, and they think their parents don’t know what it’s like. All they want to do is to fit in, in a rebellious kind of way. But is this really how an adolescent would chose to live? Feeling isolated from those they love and know best?
What is known now is that the adolescent brain loses up to a third of its connections or neural pathways at puberty. This results in a brain that relies on it’s emotional centre to survive the next 10-15 years, as well as having to re-establish new connections to make sense of the world. This explains the completely irrational response from your adolescent when you ask something simple such as “Can you take out the garbage bin please?” It also explains why adolescents fall in love so heavily and are then totally devastated when their love is no longer returned.
The unpredictability of adolescents drives many parents today to the default of absence “if I work hard, bring in more money, they will be happy”, “they don’t want anything to do with me/us now anyway.” Yes this is what you think they think they want. In actual fact, the most common thing mentioned to school psychologists is that adolescents just want their parents to be present. They want your time. Quality time with you. They don’t want to be home alone until 8pm each night while you work back or they don’t want you buying them material possessions to compensate (although they will take them). Adolescents just want, and need, their parents to be there to share stories and experiences or just share the same space.
So with this now in mind, what can parents do? Parenting an adolescent, not to mention keeping up with everything else in life, is exhausting work. Just when you thought your children would need less from you, you find they need more. Your adolescent needs your presence, but this requires sacrifice. When getting to know your adolescent again, you usually need to follow their rules. You’re choosing to actively participate in their world. The fun of doing something together can fill your scrapbook with pages of the best times of these all-too-brief child-raising years. Remember – the days can seem long, but the years are short.
Your goal is to learn about your adolescent, and it will take some time.
Here are some ideas to help:
1. Find out what they love to do, then do it with them rather than cheering from the sidelines.
2. Make the most of holiday time. Find time each day to put down your priorities, work, hobbies and worries and be there 100% for your adolescent. Plan what you will do together in the holidays.
3. Ask what your adolescent has never done but would like to try. Try it together. Learn something new. Go with an open mind and a sense of humour.
4. Invite your adolescent to debrief after an event/date/party over a cup of milo with you.
5. Discover your adolescent’s dreams. There’s a dream inside every young person. Help them identify their strengths and work together toward realising their dream.
6. Remember that the relationship is everything. Make your relationship with your adolescent top priority during these crazy years. Create memories together.
There is no right way to increase your presence, but remember it’s not a chore. It’s not a competition, either. The goal is to learn about your adolescent, to have fun, to encourage. Building a presence takes time. But before you know it, the process will be a joy – because you’ll really enjoy this person you’re coming to know.
Marijke Keller is a Psychologist with over 15 years’ experience at Mind Matters Cairns.