Who is this teen that I am living with and raising?
Who is this teen that sometimes is … Rude? Ungrateful? Wants to sleep away the day? Makes messes and expects others to clean up? Doesn't communicate about his or her whereabouts (while carrying a cell phone as bodily extension 24/7)? Resists going to church or Confirmation? Parents are sometimes baffled by how inconsiderate their teen can be. Parents often blame themselves for their teen's behavior and attempt to correct the behavior by "showing up" when things have gone wrong.
How do parents maintain relationship or connection with their teen when they are breaking away and becoming their own person? Yes, we want gratitude, for them to clean up after themselves, and the essential question remains of how do we maintain a connection.
Often parents respond by attempting breakthrough communication at the wrong time for the wrong reason. My experience with teens' negative or positive behavior is that, if they repeat it, a need is being met. It is a cultural norm for parents to "show up" in their teen's life when their teen is doing something wrong. When parents choose to "show up" in their teen's life only when things go wrong their teen may repeatedly make poor choices to meet their need for connection with their parents. In this case, the negative energizes the relationship.
When the norm shifts to parents choosing to "show up" when things are going right, the relationship is positively energized. It is vital that teens, while breaking away, experience their parents showing up when things are going right with positive, energizing statements such as, "You are showing you have a lot of integrity right now" or "I really appreciate how you are planning ahead which shows you are responsible" or "I trust you to rely on your wisdom to solve the problem."
"Showing up" may also demand us actively and non-judgmentally listening when it is an inconvenient time for us, but a good time for the teen (i.e. like at 11p.m. on a school night when they're finally done with Facebook and we're past ready for bed).
"Catch your teen" showing perseverance, courage or fortitude, wisdom, understanding, knowledge of when to reflect, strong teamwork and being a good friend. Parents making positive statements, such as these, support their teen's success and promote the connection both parents and teens mutually long for.
(Heather Hodges is youth minister for Santa Maria Church in Orinda, and is a registered marriage and family therapist intern [IMF 68435].)