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Parenting Teens Without Projecting

Parenting Teens Without Projecting

Watching your kid entering into or navigating through adolescence can be a real trigger for your own memories, insecurities, angers, and regrets about being a teen yourself. When this happens, your teen’s life can become a backdrop upon which you project images from your past onto your child. The problem is, those images belong to you, and only you see them because they aren’t really there.

If you base how you react upon those self images, you won’t fully know or understand all that’s happening with your teen. He may look exactly like you did at that age, but I guarantee you he doesn’t feel or experience life exactly like you did. He is unique, and that uniqueness is exactly what’s trying to get out during adolescence. If you persist in misinterpreting what you see as merely being a reflection of you, your teen will find himself with no choice but to move further and further from you.

So how do you disengage your own internal feelings and memories of adolescence from what’s happening with your teen?

First, you must acknowledge that this process of adolescence is as much a journey of separation for you as it is for your teen. We’ll talk about this in greater depth later, but it’s important to start thinking about and considering now. As a parent, your identity as a person can become wrapped up in your child. As your child moves through adolescence into adulthood, that identity is going to change because your relationship is going to change.

Now is a good time to start looking, really looking, at your teen as more than just an extension or a projection of yourself. This nascent adult is going to be birthed through adolescence with different viewpoints, perspectives, experiences, talents, preferences, goals, and dreams than yours. If you haven’t started learning to accept, acknowledge, and—absolutely whenever possible—approve of whom this unique person is turning into, you’re late, but you have some time to catch up. 

Second, be prepared for changes. What was true about your child five years ago may not be, and probably is not, true anymore. She may have wanted to become a veterinarian at eight, but at thirteen she’s determined to be an artist. You were willing to consider taking out a second mortgage for veterinary school back then because at least she’d be a doctor, but now you’re not so enthused about her plans of going off to Arizona when she graduates to study as part of “just living life.” Remember, teens are trying on different personas and imagining different futures. This is normal, so throttle back on freaking out just yet.

Third, you need to start really paying attention to some things your teen will let you know early and often. About other things, your teen will be much more secretive. It’s time for you to take out a rarely used trait in the parental arsenal—subtlety. You will need to become quietly observant. Really listen to what your teen says or doesn’t say. Watch their body language; remember, most communication is nonverbal.

Adolescence is a normal process, and ultimately a phase. Learning to gracefully navigate this time with your teen will make life easier for both of you. You will come out of this phase more adaptive, understanding, non-judgmental, and likely with a few more gray hairs. They will come out of it as the person God intended them to be. Keep looking toward the light at the end of the tunnel!

If your relationship with your teen has taken a turn for the worse and you’re struggling to get back on track, you may need professional intervention. Call The Center • A Place of HOPE at 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166 to speak with their relationship recovery specialists. They will be able to help you evaluate your options, and connect you with the help and support you need to get your relationship back on track.


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