Missing the Sweet Child that Your Teen Used to Be

Tips on Teens #001

Remember that sweet and affectionate child who used to run to meet you at the door, jump into your arms and give you a big kiss?  Now when you get home, your teen doesn't even get out of his room to roll his eyes at you.  You miss the close emotional bond that you and your child once had as you realize that you are now living with… a real bona fide teenager.

MMMMWAA-HA-HA-HA-HA! (insert evil laugh here).

It hurts my feelings that she is so distant now and barely wants to even be seen with me.  Sometimes I feel that my teenager doesn't even love me!  I used to be so “COOL!”  What happened?

PUBERTY!  If you remember the details from Tips on Teens #030 – Adolescent Brain Development, her brain is developing rapidly.  During this process, your teen starts to see herself as more of a separate entity from your family than she used to, developing her own sense of individuality.  This is a normal process in adolescent maturation and takes many years to fully develop in a healthy teen.  So, what happened was… your kid started growing up.  YOU didn’t change, SHE DID… and that’s normal.  It can be very difficult for a parent to accept that individuation process, but it is a necessary step in her development towards adulthood.  If teens didn’t go through this process, they’d never leave the house once grown-up!  

 

comic portraying teenager gradual mood change and disrespect toward parent

 

My kid seems like a totally different person.  I mean, he barely even grunts at me when I speak to him, but he’s all jokes and smiles with his friends!  What gives?

We do.  We give.  And we keep on giving.  We give them patience and space to make mistakes, room to grow and of course, we give them love.  No matter what, we give them love.  Even after those horrible teenage mistakes that they will inevitably make.  Even after the 100th eye-roll of the day.  

What?!?  I can’t just act like Carol Brady all the time, pretending that my feelings aren’t hurt too!  It’s downright disrespectful how he treats me!  Not to mention annoying. He thinks that I’m embarrassing? It’s me that’s embarrassed when we’re in public!

Yes, I know the attitude can be incredibly annoying.  However, let’s take a look at what’s going on underneath.  Your teen loves you the same as he ever did, however it sometimes becomes more difficult during adolescence to share those feelings with you, his parents.  A teen’s identity is going though tremendous change and it is often hard for your kid to keep up with it.  Your teenager wants to be seen as an adult, cool, master of his own fate; but hugging, kissing or even talking with you can sometimes threaten his perception of autonomy.  Socializing with his friends is much easier… they are all going through the same thing.  You on the other hand can see your kid for who he really is and who he has been.  After all, you’re the only one who knows he needed a nightlight until he was 10, or wet her bed until she was eight, or slept with his Winnie-the-Pooh until he was 12, or… get the idea?  You know all of his strengths and every single one of his weaknesses, and that will make anyone feel vulnerable.  The analogy here is that your son is Superman who looks and acts strong and cool on the outside, yet in his mind he hates that he feels like Clark Kent, completely scared to let anyone see that awkward side of himself.  All the while, you (Lex Luthor) dangle Kryptonite in front of him constantly reminding him of his vulnerabilities and insecurities and how easily you can see through the cape and the boots that he uses to hide those insecurities behind.

If you can relate to these sensitivities, you can put the Kryptonite back in it’s solid lead box by refraining from your own snarky remarks that challenge and micromanage each decision that he makes.  This allows him to learn from his choices and begin the process of becoming more confident in his sense of self and autonomy.  Allow him to experiment with his identity so he can figure out who he is and how he truly thinks about the world.  This is a long process, but necessary to grow into a well rounded adult.  It’s much healthier to go through this development at fifteen than at thirty-five!  Hopefully this perspective will give you that extra patience you’ll need for the next seven years while he figures things out.  

How come my kid can’t be vulnerable around me?  I’m the safest place for her!  Why won’t she trust me?

Perhaps it is less about not trusting you and more about not trusting herself.  Again, her identity is in a constant state of flux.  This may surprise you, but your opinion matters to her… more than she’d care to admit!  She doesn’t yet know how to accept all these new and overwhelming thoughts and feelings.  From her unconscious perspective, her brain is giving her this message:

If I can’t figure out who I am and how I fit in, my parents will try to do it for me.  Or maybe they won’t like who I am or who I am becoming.  This is way too stressful!  It’s best to keep Mom and Dad at a distance until I can figure all this out myself!

I want my teenager to feel emotionally supported by me, but I also miss the relationship that we used to have!  Sometimes I feel like the kid I once knew is gone and this other person has taken his place.

It is quite normal and okay for you to miss the innocent and affectionate child that your teenager used to be.  In fact the more you embrace that loss, the more effective you will meet your kid’s emotional needs.  One of the toughest parts of being a parent is constantly letting go of your children as you know them to be as they grow into new people every few years or so.  While he is still the same human being, his personality is rapidly evolving to the degree that you may not recognize him anymore.  Allowing yourself to cope with the “loss” of the child he used to be, helps you parent the teenager you have now.  However, if you remain stuck, pining away for the cute little kid he was last summer, you won’t be able to focus on the NEW positive qualities and personality traits that are developing before your very eyes (yes, some of these new characteristics will actually be positive).  If you do not accept your teen for who he is today, more than likely you will only recognize the behaviors and mannerisms that drive you crazy!  On the other hand, if you handle this with the right amount of sensitivity, then by the end of this torture known as adolescence, you may even see bits of that smiling, sweet and tender child reemerging in your young adult.

Wow!  That sounds emotionally grueling.  All I want to do is hold her and tell her that I love her, but she’s embarrassed to be seen with me.  Am I wrong to want to love my daughter?

Not at all.  Of course you want to share your love with your child… not matter her age.  However, you may have to do it in a different way than you used to when she was six years old.  The restraint you show her now may not be as satisfying to you, but it may be what she needs at this point in time to feel comfortable.  It is unrealistic for us to expect our kids to satisfy our emotional needs for affection.  They are not emotionally capable of taking on that responsibility.  Often, the embarrassment a kid feels around her parents is a result of feeling pressured to satisfy a parent’s emotional need to be close.  This pressure may be completely self-imposed, yet she will perceive it as coming from you and react with aloofness and annoyance to protect her fragile emotional boundaries. 

So, how am I supposed to accept his aloof attitude when it all it does is break my heart?

Try to tune in to what you are honestly feeling when your teen rolls his eyes at you in front of his friends.  Do you unconsciously feel that his actions imply that you are not good enough or that he is mad at you?  Are you angry, sad, frightened… a combination of all three?  Let’s think back to that very first time when your precious two year old went to someone else BESIDES YOU for comfort.  It felt like a slap in the face!  To think that your child, whom you’ve given your soul to, could actually feel better with someone else’s hug!!!  Well, now that he’s a teenager it’s the same kind of thing.  Only this time, instead of Grandma or Grandpa or Aunt Betsy that he runs to, it’s his dratted friends!  Who, might I remind you, are teenagers themselves.  A double slap across the face!  

The more aware of those vulnerable feelings that you have about feeling rejected or taken for granted by your teen, the more likely you will be able to explore and understand the root causes of those feelings and deal with them from a place of strength and peace.  Your teenager’s flippant rebukes will not be so crushing to you anymore.

Okay, so how precisely am I supposed to grieve the loss of my innocent little cherub and in turn, accept the insensitive oaf that my teenager is now?

Teenagers are tough to parent.  It is easy to miss the good ol’ days.  When you are faced with those tough times, open up the photo albums and videos of your kids when they were little and reminisce about the good feelings you shared together.  In fact, if you can somehow invite your teenager to join you down memory lane, perhaps she will also be reminded of how things were better, simpler, more peaceful in yesteryear… before the dark times… before the totally terrible teen years!

(updated article from November 2006) 

Remember that adolescence is a temporary mental disorder... and it will pass within a few years.


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