Precocious Teens: Don’t Buy Into the Bravado

by Gary Gilles

teen-with-attitudeI was recently talking with a mom of a 17-year old son who posed this question: My son is a good kid at heart, but he shuts me and my husband out of his life most of the time. I have tried countless times to engage him but he puts up a wall around himself when he is home. I know he doesn’t do this with his friends. But I don’t know how to connect with him.

This situation is not unique to parents with boys so I’ll address it for both males and females because the principles are mostly the same.

Think developmentally

The first thing many parents think is, “What have we done wrong to create this behavior?” Before you go down that path, let me try to put adolescent development into perspective and then I’ll offer some suggestions.

First, adolescents are straddling the line between being dependent children and independent adults. You may have noticed that your teen sometimes can’t make up his or her mind between those two options. This is normal. It’s tough being a teenager, especially in this time period. The dominant message that the larger culture sends to teens is that they can be the masters of their own world. That philosophy seems to work well in teen-targeted television and film but not so well on the home front. We have a whole generation of teens who are masquerading as independent adults. There is often a bravado they try to project that they don’t need parental guidance any longer.

Sure, your teen is excited about the opportunities that he sees opening up as he gets older. And it is good for you to give them age-appropriate autonomy to make some decisions about his life. But, it is a developmental myth that your son or daughter doesn’t need you. Don’t buy into this message.

The truth is, your teen needs a strong relationship with you (whether they believe it or not) to help guide them through these next few years of launching their life. Here are some suggestions of what you can do to help build that relationship stronger.

  • Tune into your teen’s emotional needs. Listen carefully to things your son or daughter gets excited about, such as friends, video games, weekend plans, dates, etc. When you hear emotion, gently pursue their feelings. For example, say your son comes home talking about the latest video game all of his friends are getting. Instead of rolling your eyes or asking how he intends to pay for that new game, try asking (with sincerity) what he likes most about the game, what he finds challenging or exciting about how the game is played. You might even go as far as to ask him to show you how he plays it. You might find that he is much more engaged with you and that there is more to talk about.
  • Encourage discussion. At this age there is no shortage of topics that can prompt a disagreement between parents and teens. So, knowing that tendency, take the high road. Delay stating your point of view and ask your teen to tell you theirs. For example, your teen says she wants to stay out an hour beyond the normal curfew. You could immediately say no or you could ask her to explain why she wants to stay out later. But, then take it further. You could turn it around and ask her to respond to this request as if she was the parent and you were the teen. This would give insight into her motive and perhaps prompt more discussion on whether staying out later is a wise choice. The idea is to engage her in new ways.
  • Look for opportunities to mingle with your teen’s friends. You can do this by making your home an appealing place for you son or daughter’s friends to hang out. Have a movie night at your home, a cookout, a video game marathon, etc. This gives you an opportunity to build a friendly rapport with their friends and also gives you more to talk about. Peers, as you are well aware, become increasingly important to teens. What you are trying to do is make those peer relationships part of what happens in your home. This way your teen sees their friends as an extension of the family and doesn’t have to choose between friends and family.

Don’t be surprised if your first efforts at applying these suggestions are dismissed. Keep at it. Pursue your teen. Persistence, when you know it is the right thing to do, usually has a big payoff in the end.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Andy Kaufman

I love the advice to listen closely for what they express enthusiasm about, even if it’s not particularly something we’re excited about…. Great post, Gary!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: