Understanding Teen Development: Why They Need to Push us Away
“Mom go away.” This is the third time my daughter has uttered these words this afternoon. She’s been home for an hour. Many days I appreciate the fact that being rejected by my tween is part of her teen development, and I smile or even laugh. This is something that she should be doing! But some days it’s hard not to take personally.
You Are Not Alone
I realize I’m not alone. During the tween and teen years, many children try to separate themselves from their parents’ influence. Perhaps your son walks ten feet behind you. Or your daughter buries herself in her phone. It’s how teens assert themselves. It’s how they let us know they need to be independent. Now’s the time they may outwardly tell us how they can’t stand us, how we handle certain things or how we embarrass them on a regular basis.
They Push Us Away Because They Love Us
But we need to remind ourselves that our children sometimes outwardly “hate” us precisely because of … how deeply they actually love us! It’s true!
Preparing for a New Nest?
They’re preparing for what may be perhaps one of the hardest tasks in their lives — flying from the nest. Leaving home! It’s hard to imagine why they’d want to fly the coop in the first place. After all, parents work hard to make sure their home is as comfortable and safe for their children as possible. I remember when my daughter was eight-years-old she once said that if she moved away from home to go to college that she wanted my husband and me to move in with her there. (I will be sure to remind her she said this when she eventually reaches that point!) But for now, it’s time for her to start imagining home as somewhat uninhabitable. That helps soften the blow when she eventually does go.
Finding Themselves by Separating from You
It makes sense that in order to figure out who they are, to find their own identities, to build up their own sense of self and esteem, teens have to see themselves as very different from us — especially if they are quite similar. “Who am I?” is a major developmental question of adolescence. “Not you!” is a simple answer. Our teens sometimes have to see us as offensive, bothersome or hopelessly embarrassing as a critical step towards seeing themselves as unique people.
So, the next time your tween or teen is giving you the ol’ heave-ho, say to yourself, “Wow, I have done such a good job establishing a strong relationship, that she is really struggling with how much she cares about me!” Or try, “He is so much like me that he has to push me away to find himself.” Genuinely knowing this, you’ll get through just about anything your teen throws your way.
Most importantly, trust that after this temporary but necessary, phase of development, your child will again appreciate you. Ultimately when they leave, you won’t have an empty nest. Your children will be “in flight.” They’ll be comfortable returning to the home where they received so much love and support.
Support Teens Asking the Fundamental Question of Adolescence
Teens are faced with the big question of adolescence, “Who am I?” As they try to answer this complex question, it’s rather like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Learn how to support teens as they seek the answer.
Offer clear boundaries around safety and morality. This forms the puzzle edges against which they can push.
We are the role models that they can measure themselves against. We are the covers on the box that remind them of what it means to be a healthy adult.
Allow Trial and Error
Get out of the way as they work on the pieces in the middle. This takes trial and error -- a vital part of adolescence. This is how teens discover their strengths and limitations, their sense of style, their character, and their ethics and morals.
Trust Their Ability
Trust that your teens will solve the puzzle on their own. Remain available if and when they need guidance.