One would think that with the end of senior year in sight, fun end-of-year activities being planned, and the excitement about going off to college becoming more of a reality, life with your teen would be relaxing and fun! However, what is likely happening in your household is that conversations are becoming harder, emotions are running high, small behavior changes are occurring, your teen is more sullen and is pulling away from both parents and siblings. She may not want to spend time with you or participate in family activities. Don’t despair. This is completely natural and an important phase. This emotional separation allows her to be better prepared to leave home, head to college, and become a well-adjusted adult. Know that deep down she still loves her family, and that she is excited about heading off on her own, but she may also be feeling anxious about leaving home and the journey ahead. By pulling away a bit now while she still has home as a safety net, it becomes easier for her to leave when the time comes. The hardest thing for you to do right now, aside from not losing your cool, is to not take it personally.
Here are some thoughts that might make your life a little easier over the coming months:
1. Remember that you are still the parent. Be a welcoming, compassionate role model and mentor. It’s not your job to be her friend, she needs a family leader she can turn to.
2. Listen more and talk less. You have so much you want to teach her and tell her before she leave the nest, but it’s really important that your teen knows that you will listen, that you are safe and that you are available. By listening without interrupting, you’ll gain a chance to really hear what is on her mind and will have a window into what her fears, strengths and weaknesses are. Then you’ll be in a good position to help her and more importantly, she’ll know that she can turn to you when she needs to, even when she's away from home.
3. Remain calm. The times they are a’changing and if you’re too stressed to deal with whatever the current crisis is, then you won’t be able to respond rationally.
4. Let her make mistakes. This is often a challenge, but at this age your teen needs more privacy and autonomy. She needs to make mistakes so she can learn from them. That’s an important key to learning and to using good judgment.
5. Be a good role model. Hopefully you’ve been doing this all along. Don’t stop now. Your teen is watching you so set a good example. And be real! Let her see that you don’t always know best, that you make mistakes, that you get confused and that you apologize when you are wrong. It’s important to let her see that you’re not perfect and that she doesn’t have to be either. We’re all just works in progress.
6. Schedule family time. Whether it’s a meal out, a day-trip, a hike, whatever it is that your family normally enjoys, make it so. Relaxing time together is precious and will go a long way towards keeping everyone connected. Oh, and no screens!
7. Talk to your teen about risks and give her a game plan. Again, you’ve hopefully been doing this all along but now is a good time to reinforce these subjects. Have the talks about drugs, and drinking and driving. Your teen needs to be prepared for the big wide world and you need to express your expectations as well as helping her to come up with options to deal with these situations. Brainstorm with her. One of the best times to talk is when you’re alone in the car together. Somehow, sitting next to each other but looking straight ahead while taking in the passing scene, is one of the easiest ways to have these conversations, with none of the usual distractions you face at home. Rest assured that even if your teen isn’t the most responsive, she’s still listening.
Tuck these ideas in your head, jot them in your diary, update your to-do list and get them done over the next few months, but above all – relax! You’ve got a lot of exciting times ahead so enjoy this precious time with your teen!