Teenage Friends

Dear Sharon,

My teenager never wants to be with us anymore…always wants to be with her friends. We can’t have family dinners and there are constant sleep overs with her friends. We’re finding this very frustrating. Is this normal? We feel like our family is falling apart, and it’s also scary to let her wander the streets in a pack with her friends. This is not a village in Switzerland. What limits can we impose and how?

Dear parent,

Is all of this normal? Yes! Is it something to pay attention to? Definitely!

1. Friends are an essential part of any teenager’s life. The inevitable ups and downs of teenage relationships are an important part of your child’s long-term development.

2. The teen years can be an exciting and wonderful time in your child’s development. When you become a teenager the world is exciting in countless new ways. A teen can suddenly realize that their world belongs to them more than to their parents – wow! All this confidence and excitement can have them feeling like they “know what they are doing.” In spite of how they feel, teens are still young and can rarely have good lives without lots of adult relationships, support and guidance.

3. Here are some basic guidelines I often recommend to parents of teens:

a. Make it a definite requirement that your child tells you where they are and who they are with whenever you are not with them.

b. Make sure an adult is home during sleep overs and parties and check to see that the adult present agrees with your viewpoints on appropriate teen activities.

c. Make your home a good place for teens to congregate so that they can be together in a safe environment that is not a street corner whenever possible. This often means having a private space (small is OK) with plenty of food and fun activities (video games, movies, and/or an indoor sports game such as air hockey or fooze ball, etc. The Back to Basic Toy Catalogue – backtobasictoys.com – has some good suggestions but there are other places to look as well).

d. Be ready to give up dinnertime, learn about their music and interests, lose sleep and travel with your teen frequently. It is essential for teens to have a good relationship with their parents. This time of life can be challenging in many ways and your child needs your help. Your family is not falling apart; it is just that spending time with a teen is very different than spending time with a younger child; it usually takes a lot more time and patience. Teens are more likely to appreciate and/or open up to their parents when they spend time with them doing “teen” things. Listening uncritically to their music, fumbling through a video game they love, quietly hanging with them in stores that sell teen things are all good ways to be together. Formal dinnertime is often not as helpful. The time when teens are most likely to talk (a very important thing to do) is often late at night or when you are accompanying them to and from somewhere they are going. (I used to drive my son to high school or take the subway with him to his activities when he was upset or I hadn’t seen much of him – it made my day much harder but it seemed to help. I also got much less sleep than I wanted to on the few nights when he flopped on my bed at midnight to talk).

The hardest part of the teenage years usually lasts for only 3 or 4 years. It takes a great deal of patience, time and energy to support your teen through these years but if you pull it off they can begin the next (much more independent phase) of their life on much more solid footing.

All my best wishes as you tackle this important and exciting age!