Understanding Your Teen: 5 Steps to Help the Parent-Teen Relationship

A father and his teenage son do woodworking together.When your child is growing up, they enjoy being around you and it’s a great feeling. They don’t want to be away from you, they listen to what you say, they think you are the greatest.

As your child becomes a teen the relationship changes. You are not as important as you were because their friends are center stage. This change in your relationship is part of a normal developmental process, called individuation, that your teen needs to experience and go through. You are still the parent, but not the first person they go to when they have a problem.

Most parents are able to allow this shift to take place. They may not like it, but they know that it’s better to work with the shift than against it. Other parents have a very difficult time with this shift, which can cause both teen and parent to have a hard time getting along. With this type of parent, more arguing may happen which can cause the teen to withdraw even more, and move closer to their friends. Having this approach may not enhance the parent-teen relationship, but hinder it.

What can parents do? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Understand that your teen is not doing this on purpose, but that it is a part of his/her developmental stage of identity. We all went through this phase.
  2. Invite their friends over, so you can get to know them. This helps break down preconceived notions that your teen’s friends are “not good for them.” They may not be but a different approach can be more attainable.
  3. Talk with your teen about friendship, what it means, and listen to what they say. Ask if you can give your opinion of them.
  4. Negotiate with your teen on what you are expecting from her/him. Tell her/him what is acceptable of friends and what you are not comfortable with, and why. When teens are given actual reasons, they will think about what is said.
  5. Have some faith in your teen that he/she can pick friends that are a good influence. It may take him/her awhile to see any flaws and find out if the friend isn’t as good as he/she thought, but that will help your teen to learn and make wiser decisions.

You and your teen can still be connected, you are still his/her parent. Respect the shift that is happening with your teen and things can go smoothly for both of you.

© Copyright 2010 by Kelly Sanders, MFT. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment

    April 9th, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    My mum always thought my friends are ‘bad company’ to me and blamed each and every mistake of mine on this ‘bad company’. that was back in high school. now I’m in college and close to my graduation and have realized that it is much better to actually let your parents know about your friends…it lets them relax and know that your friends are not ‘bad company’ after all and also lets you be closer to friends without the pulling-back from parents :)

  • Leslie

    April 10th, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    One of the best ways to overcome this divide that parents often develop with their teens is to make your house the one that they want to hang out at. Make your home safe and inviting without being overwhelming and always up in their business. At least you have a better idea of the kind of stuff that they may be getting into if they are hanging out at your house. When they go elsewhere then you have no idea about the stuff going on. And as an added bonus keeping them close will help to keep open the lines of communication which so easily close as your kids enter the teen years,and if you keep open the dialogue with them then the chance becomes smaller that they are going to go out and get themselves into real trouble.

  • Shannon

    April 11th, 2010 at 4:39 AM

    Parents I think that it is time to face the facts and realize that your teens friends are the ones they look to for validation and acceptance. This does not last forever but it is a fact that this is going to happen. But just be there for them and try to reamin understanding and eventually they will find their way home again. But never burn those bridges- let them know that when they are ready, you will be there waiting for them with patience, love, and understanding.

  • Shona

    April 11th, 2010 at 7:09 PM

    Learn not to jump to conclusions. Parents for the most part have their teen’s best interests at heart and it’s not hard to freak out when you watch the news and see nightly the horrors of today’s society. Most teens are more sensible than you give them credit for.

  • Logan

    April 12th, 2010 at 3:21 AM

    Learning to trust your children and sometimes giving them the benefit of the doubt goes a long way toward building a solid relatinship with your teenager. trust that you have taught them well, and that the lessons that you have taught them they will actually use at some point in time!

  • Tabitha

    April 12th, 2010 at 2:45 PM

    My mother always made us leave the bedroom door open when our friends were there. I think it was for eavesdropping. :) She did always bring some goodies down for us to eat and drink as well. That was how she’d get a good look to see if there were any strange faces she didn’t know.

  • themuse

    April 12th, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    My parents much preferred me having friends over than being at their houses, especially if they hadn’t met their parents before. I guess it might be different for boys. Us girls were kept on a tight rein.

  • Paige

    April 12th, 2010 at 10:25 PM

    It hurts your heart to see your child growing up and them no longer be Mommy’s little girl or boy, that’s for sure. You have to give them that space though and trust that you’ve raised them as well as you can and that they won’t forget everything you’ve taught them anytime soon.

  • LaScala

    April 14th, 2010 at 7:52 PM

    Stifling them is a road to rebellion. Give them boundaries and make them both fair and enforceable. Your teens will respect you more than if you try to be their buddy and push aside your parental responsibilities in the name of friendship.

  • Barb

    April 16th, 2010 at 11:30 AM

    If it’s any comfort, it’s possible to discover a new kind of level of friendship with your kids in later life. I have a much better relationship with my parents now in my forties than I ever have. I hope the same thing happens with my own kid when he gets older and we can be closer again.

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