Welcoming Your Child to Adolescence

Photo of CPTC’s Jacques’ family (from left: Sizwe, Markita, Jacques, & Cauvin) @ 2018 MELISSA BLEMUR PHOTOGRAPHY

Welcome Your Child to Adolescence

Adolescence is that part of our life’s journey when we transition from childhood to adulthood. We often mark this time with a rite of passage event that celebrates a young person’s coming of age. Different cultures hold different recognitions of milestones (e.g., Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Quinceañera, Confirmation, Seijin-no-Hi, Rumspringa).

There are also life events that allow us to recognize progress towards adulthood ranging from first menstruation to learning to drive. These events invite adult guidance. However, adolescence is not about events, it is about continual growth and ongoing opportunities for parents and other caring adults to offer guidance to make the journey more fruitful.

During adolescence, we begin to transition from the primary authors of their lives, to becoming their co-authors, as they begin to write their own unique life story.

Share Authorship

Throughout childhood, we have been the writers of our children’s lives. As the “authors” of their early lives, we ensure our children are safe and secure, and to a large extent shape what they see and learn. During adolescence, however, we begin to transition from primary authors to becoming their co-authors as our children begin writing their own unique life story. At our best, we provide them with the resources to not only survive but thrive. We envelop them with our deep and committed love. We create experiences where they can figure out their true authentic selves. And we make sure they are ready for the world. 

Learn to Let Go

Parenting adolescents is an exercise in letting go — preparing to share the pen with our teens. Letting go doesn’t always come naturally because our teens are us, and we are them. A healthy and powerful way to let go is to let them know how much it means to us that they are growing.

Celebrate their growth. Welcome them to the journey. Write it in a letter or in a text. Create a video. Express it in words or through actions. All that really matters is that your introduction into adolescence is done with love. Each relationship has its own distinct characteristics and each person their own beauty. Pick a strategy to mark your child’s growth and then wrap him or her in love.

A Personal Letter

I considered the different ways to welcome my teen to adolescence. My tween is now a teen having just turned 13. I decided to write him a letter that welcomes him to adolescence. It was important that he knew adolescence was not a solo journey, and he would get a lot of support. I used three elements in my letter: Convey our love and our confidence in him. Remind him of his cultural anchors. And let him know that his journey is his and we will be there to guide him along the way. 

Happy birthday, son!

You are 13. This is both a wish and a welcome.

I wish that this year and the years ahead bring you joy, good health, love, and prosperity. Son, we love you. Mommy and I want you to know that love is at the center of this family.  

Welcome to adolescence son. It is the realization that you are a central writer of your own life. Your mom and I have so far, been the co-authors of your life. We have outlined your journey with support, love, values, and guidance. We have written our expectations of you sometimes too explicitly. Now we will share the pen. On your journey, you will create your own experiences. We will still be there for guidance and protection. The road ahead will be curvy with a fair share of obstacles. Use good judgment. Reach for your best in the seediest of moments.  We will continue to write together, each year giving you more freedom to explore, discover, and define who you are and what you want.   

Ayisien nou ye (We are Haitian). We are African-American. It is important that I express who we are. There are aspects of our lives that are obvious. We value love, respect, and kindness. We are more than the present, the four of us and our extended family. We are the past, those that came before us with joy, laughter, blessings, pain, and sacrifice. They are expressed in many different ways: pictures, traditions, family stories, personal tales. Our culture is found in words, feelings, and quiet deeds. Listen to them. Some of them will be in Kreyol. Others are en Français. Still, others are in your Southern roots. You already are certified, Philly. Just remember as you author your life that it is okay to reach back at the past, absorb the wrinkled wisdom, and connect with those whose shoulders you stand on.

I am proud of you, even when you stumble. And you will stumble! Mommy and I will provide you with the guidance, support, and firm love to help you be the best version of you. We love you. Know this well. Hold on to that love when things are difficult. Hold on to that love in both the good times and tough ones.  

I am your father who loves you. I know I speak loudly and love harder. I also believe in discipline and transferring our family values. I strive to be a good listener. I will see you through that lens that clarifies how amazing you are. I am learning. I too will stumble on this parenting journey. Forgive my mistakes. I am your father and dream keeper. These are two roles that I value tremendously and take seriously. I may not be a billionaire, but both of you have made me richer than you can imagine. My life is better and greater because you are in it.  I am anchored in the spirituality that there is something greater. It is why I preach humility. I love you with all my heart. Happy birthday, son.

– Papi

Find Your Own Approach

Writing a letter to my son on his milestone birthday was my approach to welcome my son into adolescence. Creating a positive rite of passage that celebrates your young man/woman to this new chapter is a meaningful way to convey love and guidance. By the way, you don’t have to wait for an event. Now is a good time. If it is the right time for you, it will be for your child. If it is meaningful to you, it will be for your child … even if he or she won’t say that out loud.


How to be Pro-Development

Every stage of development is worth appreciating. Adolescence is a time of great change and rapid growth. When parents support development, teens have the ability to thrive throughout different stages of change. Learn more about being pro-development.


Have High Expectations

We must not let our teens feel like they are letting us down as they grow. Rolling our eyes or having low expectations can make them worry about growing up.


Expect Challenges

They are a necessary part of teens’ development. We need to see these temporary setbacks in the larger context of development and support our teens to learn from mistakes.


Support Exploration

Teens must push limits and test boundaries. It’s how they experience and learn to bounce back from failure. It gives them the knowledge needed to become an independent adult. As parents, we must work to keep them safe, but not stop them from seeking new experiences.


Champion Strengths

Don’t believe the negative myths that paint adolescence as a time to survive. Teens need us to believe in them and hold them to high expectations. Create a community that is committed to building on the strengths of our adolescents.

About Jacques Louis

Jacques Louis, MS, is Director of Operations at CPTC. He brings nearly two decades of experience in positive youth development settings and oversees center operations.

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