Is your child disrespectful, moody and more interested in friends than family?
Are your thoughtful questions answered, if at all, with one word?
Are your attempts to connect dismissed and unreciprocated?
If you answered yes, yes and yes, the good news is that you need not be alarmed that your once loving, happy child has become a drug addicted cult member.
If your child is situated somewhere in the 11- to 15-year-old age range, then you are not alone and all of you will survive.
What you are looking at is puberty and though you will receive no credit from your child, the behavior you are witnessing is his or her way of letting you know that you are doing all right. Believe it or not, your child is already preparing to leave you to embark on life on his or her own. This process begins in early adolescence and continues, in some form or another, through adulthood.
Puberty is an accurate term to describe the physiological changes but it does not begin to do justice to the developmental challenges that your child needs to conquer in order to, one day, get out of your hair.
Essentially, what you are experiencing is your child figuratively throwing elbows to push his or her way out of the family. Children don’t just become adults when they go to college or move out of your house. It is a long and bumpy process.
Challenging your authority, turning to peers, making mistakes, accepting consequences, and generally wanting to do things his or her way are all signs that your child is on the path to autonomy and functional adulthood. Consider actions like this to be the beginning of the practice your child needs in order to help amass the tools to take on adult roles and responsibilities, and jump the many hurdles life will put in his or her path.
So, how do you as a parent facilitate this necessary development? Well, you will serve your child well by accepting this shift both for its inevitability and its importance. And then managing it effectively.
On the other hand, just because this behavior has a greater purpose or function does not mean that you should give it infinite range. The value in your child pushing so hard at this young age is basically to get a sense of how hard he or she can actually push. Your child is exploring boundaries and limitations that establish a framework for adult interactions. The more comfortable your child gets with the limits of his or her voice and actions, the more likely he or she will be to use it in a productive way. Children who constantly get shut down for taking chances and exploring options remain shut down. Children who have no limits on the strength of their voice become pretty insufferable.
So, as a parent the job is quite straightforward. When your child speaks, either to you or within earshot, measure his words and the need for your intervention not by your own personal comfort level and agreement with his expressed values and opinions. Rather, observe whether or not the words are within the realm of appropriate interpersonal conduct that will elicit useful and effective results. In other words, let society lend you a hand.
If your child is out of line, he will learn quickly. If your child is expressing points of view that he can’t support, the world will school him steadfastly. The same goes for bragging, lying, whining and any other negative but functional behavior that will teach your child, in real time, what happens when one pushes too hard.
A show of support for your child’s process will go a long way in keeping the communication open between you. This will allow you to continue to impart necessary values and wisdom that will inform the filter that your emerging adult will run his thoughts and actions through. This is the filter that he will engage in order to decide, with sense and intelligence, whether to add your tools to his belt, or whether he is fine without them.
For those of you interested in reading more on this subject, I recommend this article.
Carrie is a therapist and licensed attorney in Connecticut with a specialization in divorce mediation and parenting plans. She also runs CT Relational Therapy, LLC and holds a Master's Degree from Fairfield University.
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