Yes, and no. That’s a complicated question, and one that most parents of teens wonder. Parents often suddenly feel disconnected from their teen. They have no idea what is going on in their mind or their lives and it’s often hard to tell from the surface if the teen is ok. Honestly, your teen isn’t even sure if they are ok.
Your teen is going through a lot of physical and emotional changes that can make it seem like they are completely out of control and irrational. Their bodies and brains are growing at an incredible rate. School demands are increasing each year with a strong and pressuring emphasis on getting into THE BEST college. Friends are coming and going. And, I often find that teens are constantly working through competing needs that they don’t know how to share because they can’t always put words to them, and aren’t willing to be vulnerable enough to share them. They are simultaneously trying to meet the needs for independence and nurturing. They want to feel, and be seen as, independent. They are coming into adulthood and are very aware of that. At the same time, they want to be nurtured, taken care of. But they will never be caught dead telling you that they need you. In their minds they are grown and need to show that.
Here’s where you, trusted adult, come in. ( I say trusted adult, because this really applies to all of the adults in a teens life, not just parents) The best ways you can support your teen is to first keep these needs in mind. Remind yourself that they are figuring a lot out, and just because they say they don’t say it, they need you. So ask how they’re doing, set aside time for them, nurture them in those ways you always have. I know what you are thinking – they don’t let me. Don’t stop trying. Don’t let it be an option. Ignore the negative response (easier said than done), including the eye roll, complaint, and attitude. Deep down they really need you, they just don’t know how to say that.
And give them space to fail. I’m not talking anything monumental, like failing high school, or getting injured. Let them miss that assignment deadline. Let them be sleep through their alarm and miss first period. Let them say the wrong thing, wear the wrong thing, do the wrong thing. Because they need to learn how to fix their mistakes. They need to learn to feel what it’s like to make a mistake. They need to learn what it means to be grown, but in small ways. I like to think of parents and the school system as a safety net. Allow teens to make the mistakes they need to make in order to learn, with you and their support system as a safety net. Then when they are actually grown, they have some tools in their belt to be able to handle what life brings them.
I want to clarify that there are some things to look for that are outside of reasonable mistakes. If your child is demonstrating any unsafe behaviors or thoughts, intervene immediately.
Parenting teens is hard work. I’d love to join you on that journey of supporting your teen through critical years, while maintaining your sanity, because it is possible.