Why Teens Sometimes Reject Their Parents

Why Teens (Temporarily) Reject Parents

Our relationships with our children are the most protective force in their lives. Period. That was true when they were two and it is just as true when they are seventeen. It is our unwavering presence and ever-present love that creates a foundation of security. It helps form their sense of self and gives them the confidence to take chances, stand their ground when necessary, and build future relationships. However, we often have moments during the teen years when it feels like they’re rejecting us. It can be painful, and we wonder why.

Those are the “what happened to my little girl” moments that flash across our minds as our teens behave disrespectfully, subtly push us away, or actively shun us. The same child who snuggled with us only a year ago seems embarrassed by our presence.

The worst thing that can happen as a result of this temporary phase would be believing that your relationship is really damaged – or lost forever. If you have the foundation of a strong relationship, trust that it will continue throughout your lives. This is a bump in the road. A normal developmental phase. Breathe a sigh of relief. The reason our teens reject us is because of how entirely they love us. Really.

Preparing to Leave the Nest

As a child, your every need is met. Think of yourself as a young bird. You find yourself in a warm, comfortable nest lined with soft feathers. All you do is say you’re hungry and these wonderful bigger birds bring you all the juicy worms you could desire. Life is good. Then, brain puberty strikes about a year before any physical signs of change. Brain puberty signals that pretty soon you’re going to need to leave that nest. After a period of denial, you begin to imagine what it will be like to flap those wings and ultimately fly away. You look at that cozy nest and begin noticing that it is actually a bit prickly. You look at those wonderful birds who have met your every need and suddenly realize you could feed yourself…if you wanted to. You begin to find the way they do things a bit embarrassing.

As the years pass, and your flight from the nest draws nearer, you look at the nest and realize that it is more than just prickly. It is uninhabitable. (Think second semester of senior year of high school!) But here’s the thing to understand — if you thought the nest was still comfortable, you’d never be willing to fly.

A Developmental Leap

Flying from the nest, leaving the family home, is one of the greatest developmental challenges of a lifetime. It is jarring. Even foolish. “Why would I leave all of this security…for the unknown?” The only way that teens can separate from parents is to move through the phase of believing that they really don’t need us.

The only way that teens can separate from parents is to move through the phase of believing that they really don’t need us.

Give Teens Space to Draw Them Nearer

If we react to, rather than understand what is going on, we run the risk of damaging our relationship. If we take it personally, we may react by rejecting our children. If we deny our teens the space they need to stretch their wings, they will push us further away.

Instead, we must remain calm. Steadfast in our presence. Without hovering. Stay solidly loving, even if the love is not returned. Remain available, even while being told we are no longer needed. After this phase passes, our relationship will transform into one that is more mature and a bit more mutual. That new stronger relationship will last a lifetime.

Support Each Other

At times it may seem like children reject one parent more than the other. It may be related to gender or style of parenting – or it may lack any clear explanation. It feels awful to be the parent out of favor. And although we don’t usually say these things out loud, it feels nice to be the favorite one.

Support each other through this period. It is possible that the most favored parent will be the one rejected next week. Stay strong together and remain loving as a unit.  It will make it much easier for your child to return home after they’ve left. If you no longer share a home with your teen’s other parent, this point counts double. Your teen may play you against each other. Always try to do what’s best for your child. But don’t forget about your needs as well.

Get Help If Needed

Many children push us away precisely because of how deeply they love us. But it would be irresponsible and short sighted to suggest that all family conflict is rooted in shared love. Conflict can also stem from real circumstances and poor communication. Even the strongest families benefit from family counseling to get past challenging moments and create the environment where everyone receives support.

Trust Your Teens

We raise our children so they can learn to stand on their own. Maintaining connections with our children after they’re fully grown (an interdependence) is our goal. But, we should celebrate independence as a stepping-stone towards lifelong respect and mutual support.

Trust that our teens who are testing limits do so to become young adults who can live up to their fullest potential. Trust that our children push us away so they have the space to more clearly find themselves. Your belief that they will like who they find remains the most positive and influential force in their life.

About Ken Ginsburg

Ken Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, is Founding Director of CPTC and Professor of Pediatrics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He travels the world speaking to parent, professional, and youth audiences and is the author of 5 award-winning parenting books including a multimedia professional toolkit on “Reaching Teens.” CPTC follows his strength-based philosophy and resilience-building model. For more on Dr. Ginsburg visit www.fosteringresilience.com.

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