Do you ever wonder what happened to your sweet, affectionate, “glad to be part of this family” younger child? Did your child enter adolescence with a sudden cloud of distance, brooding, and sullen behavior? Is she desperate to be as far away from your family as possible?
It’s one of the more heartbreaking aspects of parenting. Raising a child means living through the loss of personal involvement and influence that we enjoyed in their younger years.
The teen years are marked by explorations of autonomy, independence, and identity outside the family system: Kids might want to spend more time in their rooms. They’re going to think their friends understand them a lot more than their parents do. They’re going to push their parents away. To parents, it can feel pretty horrible.
This change is not personal or unique to your child. Indeed, this is how your adolescent is learning to be an adult. Psychologists call it individuation and, although painful for parents, it is normal and healthy for your child.
As uncomfortable as it might be as a parent, your child’s distance from you is actually right on track: the teen years mark their transition into the adult world. Hopefully, they’ll take the skills you’ve helped them to learn into their lives as young adults.
Contact your pediatrician if you believe your child’s behavior changes are not normal. Depression, bullying, substance abuse, and other factors can also lead to sudden behavior changes.
Remember that just because your child is stepping away from the relationship he had with you when he was younger doesn’t mean he’s allowed to be disrespectful. And he is not allowed to break the rules of the household. Healthy emotional distance means allowing and even encouraging independence while at the same time holding your child accountable for the rules and expectations of your home.
When living with the developmental needs of a teenager gets to you, remind yourself that your child’s needs for time with her friends, and time alone, are developmentally appropriate. Stay firm and clear in your expectations. And do your best to support her development as an individual.
Be sure to take care of yourself. For parents, the grief of losing a younger child to adulthood is real. Allow yourself to be sad, to grieve. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you are having trouble letting go. The transition to adulthood is a learning process for kids and parents alike.
For more help on this subject, check out James Lehman’s article on Sudden Changes In Children. He does a great job explaining individuation and gives some helpful tools while also discussing sudden behavior changes that might point to another serious issue.
This is not an easy part of parenting, for sure. But giving our kids space to find out who they are, within a safe and respectful environment, helps them become healthy, well-adjusted adults.
Wishing you the best.
Denise, Empowering Parents Coach
Related content: Parenting Teens: Parental Authority vs. Peer Pressure
Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2010. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.
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How can you step away when your child is abusing weed?
My 15 years old son gone very quiet, telling lies that he is not smoking, shows no interest in college not having any appetite.
How do I step away from that?
Thank you for reaching out to Empowering Parents. I can understand your distress. To clarify, the article is specifically talking about not personalizing your child's emotional distance as this is a normal part of teen development. We're not recommending stepping away if your child is breaking the law or exhibiting sicky behaviors. We have several articles that focus specifically on substmace abuse and risky behaviors you may find helpful: https://www.empoweringparents.com/article-categories/child-behavior-problems/substance-abuse-risky-behavior/
We appreciate you being part of our Empowering Parents community and wish you all the best moving forward. Be sure to check back and let us know how things are going.
Hi I found your website because my daughter has disconnected with her father and I. Well, all our family really. She was great thru her teen years. Not rebellious, no real issues. She had some difficulty socially at school, but nothing I would call out of the norm. At 18 , after graduation, she moved into an apt locally. At that time I felt this brick wall being built. I engaged with her as much as she would allow figuring that she would
find her wings and return home (Emotionally) eventually. Fast forward to today and she is 34 and more aloof than ever. It really does feel like a death. I miss her so. I haven’t seen her for 1 1/2 yrs. She says she won’t come home until we “ work out a better relationship” but I don’t know how to do that if she won’t engage. She lives in Seattle and I’m in Ohio. We text occasionally and can converse about the weather and such, but that’s as far as it goes. I’ve sent long emails hoping for a breakthrough but I get back vague responses, or ‘ I’ll address this when I’m not so busy at work” . We talk occasionally, and I keep things light and positive, walking on egg shells the whole time. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I Have lost mother, father and older brother and a grand baby in the last 2 years and I feel my daughter slipping farther away.
I am so sorry it has been so
challenging with your daughter lately. You are not alone in your experience. We
hear from parents everyday who are seeing the same types of behaviors. It is
normal for a child your daughter’s age to start to pull away and spend more of
their time with their peers because that is who they relate to most right now.
Spending time in her room on her phone is how kids are connected to their
friends nowadays. It is also normal for her to protest doing something she does
not want to do, like the dishes or cleaning her room. James Lehman talks more
about the changes your child is going through at this age in his article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/sudden-behavior-changes-in-kids-part-i-what-do-they-mean/ If you feel that your
daughter’s behavior is due to something more, like the bullying she has
experienced, I would encourage you to seek local supports to help her work
through it. You can contact the 211
Helpline, a national health and human services referral service, if you need
help finding services in your area. You can reach the Helpline 24 hours a
day by calling 1-800-273-6222. You can also find them online at 211.org. I hope
this helps to answer your questions. Thank you for writing in. Take care.
It is understandable you and
your husband are frustrated by your son’s behavior. You want the best for him
and his recent choices are getting in the way of him being successful at
school. As Carol Banks discusses in her article https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/problems-at-school-how-to-handle-the-top-4-issues/, it is best to focus on helping
your son to solve his problems more effectively by coaching him on replacement
behaviors and leaving the discipline up to the school officials. Acting out
behaviors that take place at school should be disciplined at school. Having
consequences at home as well is not going to help your son to develop the
skills to behave differently. Because of the rumors that are going around it is
good to stay aware and involved, but given the fact that he has had clean drug
tests it sounds like it is just rumors at this point and not a behavior that
warrants consequences at this time. I know is it is difficult to hear your son
say he does not want to live with you anymore, but it is probably in response
to him being in trouble or not getting his way and it is not an uncommon for
kids to say things like that. The best way to handle that is to walk away and
let the situation calm down. Thank you for writing in. Take care.
It sounds like your daughter and
her husband have been dealing with a lot. It would be most effective if they
were able to get on the same page in addressing their concerns about their son
and then having dad take the lead in managing their expectations and any
necessary consequences. An article that may be helpful for them to handle it in
this way is https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-blended-family-wont-blend-help-part-i-how-you-and-your-spouse-can-get-on-the-same-page/ For the behavior issues you describe, it can be tough to
know where to begin or how to address them effectively. An article that gives
great guidance in these areas are https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-childs-behavior-is-so-bad-where-do-i-begin-how-to-coach-your-child-forward/.
I hope you find this helpful for your situation. Thank you for writing in. Take
I'm so glad this post exists! I've never heard anyone touch on how difficult it can be to accept the "new" version of your child during the preteen-teen years. I've been more open to the change with my almost twelve year old daughter, but some times I do miss her younger self. [sigh]
Growing up is guaranteed with kids, but that doesn't make it easier on us parental units.
I can understand your concern
about your daughter’s financial predicament because as a guarantor, you are
potentially responsible for her financial decisions as well. While I cannot
tell you whether you should or should not pay her rent for the remainder of the
lease, that is only a decision you can make. I would suggest
looking into what you are going to be legally responsible for when she does not
pay her rent and how her not paying could potentially effect you. If you need
help with legal questions, you can contact the 211 Helpline in your area by
dialing 211 or visiting their website at http://www.211.org/.
Regardless of who or what might have caused your daughter’s behavior, she is an
adult now, and as an adult is responsible for her choices and behavior. I can
hear the situation is causing you worry and that is understandable. I would
encourage you to focus on self care and doing things that relieves stress. That
could be doing things that you enjoy, like taking walks or visiting with
friends, or something more formal like a parent support group or counseling. I
know this is not easy to be going through. Please check back in and let us know
how things are going. Take care.