Navigating the Journey From Childhood to Adolescence
By Joan Carie, LCSW, LCAC, Aug. 30, 2018 –
For many families it seems that life never slows down. The busyness of the daily schedule sometimes prevents us from giving attention to our children’s most important phases.
For many of today’s parents, supporting the transition from childhood to adolescence can add challenges to an already chaotic family life.
There are popular beliefs about this journey, historically and culturally. It is not always true, however, that mothers and adolescent daughters can’t get along or that fathers and adolescent sons engage in power struggles without communicating.
Parents will notice that peers become very important to the child during this transition period. The child may be frustrated by the decreased amount of time they are engaged in social time with their peers. Some student schedules are so tight that there is literally no daily time to engage in social interactions.
An increase in the academic, athletic, and other expectations of students during this time is also worth mentioning. While there are systemic barriers to overcome, it is possible for adolescents and their parents to make this transition smoothly.
Separating from parents to find independence and a personal identity are natural during this phase of growth and development. Parents and children may need to take some time to grieve the loss of childhood as adolescence approaches. Simply acknowledging and honoring this can be helpful.
As children move toward independence, parents may find it helpful to be fully present in acknowledging their feelings about their children growing up. This can reduce the temptation to engage in power struggles over concerns such as curfew, dating, clothing, etc.
Here are some other key ideas that may be helpful during this transition phase:
- Be fully present when interacting with your adolescent. Adults frequently complain about kids overusing electronics but are unwilling to check their own electronic use. If parents stop multi-tasking, make eye contact and listen, it will go a long way toward better communication.
- It is important to find some common ground and connect with teens before going into the list of things they need to get done. Set aside some scheduled time with your adolescent. This is time away from peers and siblings and the other parent – individual time to really connect. This connection can go a long way when setting boundaries around independence and reducing the potential for power struggles.
- Parents need to set clear boundaries about how they expect to be treated by their children, but enforce these boundaries in a kind and compassionate way. Adolescents learn how to treat others from these important interactions with their parents.
I liken the process of transitioning from childhood through the teen years to rocks with rough edges being thrown into rushing water. The force of the water smooths out the edges and eventually, the rock transforms into a smooth stone.
When kids react in a mean way, and it will happen, it is important for parents to let their teen know the behavior is unacceptable, remodeling how they expect to be treated. Eventually this will transfer to the teen’s ability to set clear expectations as well.
As the adults, parents are still in charge. When teens say mean things to their parents, they are actually mirroring their own internal feelings. It’s not personal, so it’s important that parents not take these things personally. Don’t react negatively. Get a little distance before addressing this behavior with your teen.
Keeping these ideas in your parenting toolkit will go a long way toward building a strong foundation for your relationship with your adolescent through the teen years.