Tricky & Terrific Teens: Keeping Relationships Intact

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As our kids leave childhood and enter the world of adolescence, it can be a huge shift not only for them but for those who care for them as well. As the teenage brain begins to develop, there are many weird and wonderful things that are happening in this transition. Thus presents the challenge for caregivers which can include a sense of loss, frustration and bewilderment as they experience their child become progressively independent, private and turning towards their peers for guidance instead of them. It is during this period of development that is one of the most challenging yet important times to keep our relationships intact with our teens.

To achieve this, it can be helpful to view our teens through the attachment system. One way to think of the attachment system in operation is how when a baby cries, the primary caregiver goes to baby and provides soothing. For infants, crying is the behavior we see most often to meet a need such as hunger, sleep, or security. All behaviors have meaning and when certain needs are not met, it will then be sought out through behavioral acts. Throughout development, from birth to death, these basic needs do not change, they just are achieved differently and behaviors shift to have these needs met.

Another key aspect of attachment is the fine balance between connection and independence. Recall when your toddler was at a park or play space. They may have gone to try something new and would often look back to see you were still there or they would come back to check in before venturing off again, very much like an elastic band stretching to explore and retracting for security. Our kids are connected to us through this attachment band and by the security that provides reassurance while they venture out to explore and return to replenish their needs.

Now, enter adolescence, the awesome time when our kids begin to take on the world as their own and try out the many emerging selves as they form their identity. Our teenagers are not that much different from when they were toddlers in that they crave both connection and independence while seeking to have their needs met. This can be a very scary time for caregivers as well as teens as they navigate the wider world of expectations, judgment, pressures and relationships, all while hormones and brain wiring is changing beyond their control. It is during this time that we will experience our moody teenager vacillate through excitement and sorrow, rage and love, independence and neediness.

As it was important when our kids were babies and toddlers to be able to provide the security and connection when they are venturing out on their own, the same is true for our teens as they need to know that their caregivers have their back, even when they are at their worst which can happen often during these turbulent years. These years are full of mistakes and learning for the adult years to come and safe, predictable caregivers play a key role in this stage of development.

All relationships begin with connection and whether our teens are struggling or not, it is valuable to connect when we can. Teens can be prickly and moody and this can seem like a daunting task but if you take it one small step at a time, it can reestablish the bond and

connection thus giving them the confidence to face the world as it comes. Connection can be as simple as saying “I can see this has been a hard day” or “I am here when you need me.” Having traditions and family rituals are also a great way to maintain connection such as through holidays, birthdays, family events or weekly rituals such as game nights or a special meal night. Or simply going for a walk or a drive or playing a card game of cribbage or chess will keep these lines of communication open for when they are ready. Our teens need reassurance that we will be there when they need them without judgment or shame. This can be challenging for parents in the face of snarky remarks and disrespectful behaviour but with setting limits around how we speak and treat each other, this can lay the groundwork to keeping these important relationships intact.

You can get your teen some help in handling this tricky transition by booking in with us at Movin’ Mountains to see Becky, our Clinical Counsellor. Becky offers a free 10-minute telephone consultation to discuss how she can best assist your family. Give us a call at 778-456-0020 to make an appointment.

Author: Becky Deane
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