13 Things Parents do that Push their Teens Away
(Purpose Parenting’s adapted version of this Raising Teens Today Article)
1. Clamping down when teens show signs of independence.
If you feel your teen is “disrespecting you” when they exert independence, instead offer your teen opportunities to set their own limits/boundaries. Encourage them to make their own decisions. When your teen knows that you trust and respect their decisions, there’s a better chance they’ll become even more mature & responsible.
2. Interrogating Them Every Time They Walk in the Door
Our kids want us to be interested in their lives. They want to share what’s going on. AND, they don’t want to dread coming home because they feel judged or have their actions disapproved or overreacted to as soon as they walk in the door. The less emotionally charged we are when reacting to what our teen shares with us, the more likely they are to share their inner and outer world with us each day.
3. Half Listening When Teens want to Talk
When your teen decides they’re in the mood to talk, they need and deserve our FULL attention. Stop multi-tasking. Put your phone down. Turn off the TV. Stop folding laundry or emptying the dishwasher. Make eye contact and listen with your whole heart.
Even if you’ve heard it from them a million times. Even if you’re tired. Even if you don’t agree with what they have to say. Even if you don’t have any interest in what they’re saying.
Grab every moment you can. It doesn’t matter what the conversation is about. What matters is that you’re showing them by your open-hearted, full attention that you care enough to DROP everything and pay attention to what they have to say.
4. Constantly Criticizing and Judging
When you’re raising a teenager, there will always be things you could choose to criticize and judge. But here’s the thing: YOU NEED TO STOP.
Constant disapproval of your teen’s appearance, actions, attitudes, academic performance, friends, food choices, sleep habits, condition of their room, etc. (whether through words, tone, sighs, body language) will eventually chip away at their self-esteem.
Your constant disapproval or judgments can trigger anxiety and depression and it will ultimately push them away.
Focus on the good stuff. Not everything matters.
5. Saying No All the Time
If your knee jerk reaction is to say NO and that worked a few years ago, it will not work now that your child is a teenager. Chances are, they’ll engage in full-blown debate to test your reasoning. And they should!
Instead, say YES whenever possible. If you feel a NO coming on, sleep on it. In fact, ask yourself if they should even be ASKING you at all. Maybe this is a decision THEY SHOULD MAKE FOR THEMSELVES.
The older our teens get, the more decisions THEY should make. And THEY live with the consequences of THEIR decisions with our full support (not that time to say “I told you so.”)
This is a good time to remember, our teens are NOT reflections of us. They are themselves. Most of the time, when parents want to say NO, it comes from two places: FEAR and EGO.
We say NO because we FEAR for our teen’s safety. Or we FEAR for our own EGOs (how it will “look” in our community). Parents, it’s time to LET GO of FEAR and EGO in our parenting. Give our teens LOTS of opportunities to make their own decisions, to live with the outcomes, and to support them through those consequences.
If our teens leave home for college or a gap year, and that’s the first time they’ve ever make their own decisions, then the consequences and stakes are much higher.
Every time your teen asks you a YES or NO question, ask yourself first if they even need to be asking you that at all, or if they can just tell you what they’re doing and you say, “That sounds great. Be safe & have fun.” Try it and see how it brings your teen closer to you instead of pushing them away.
6. Information Overload
Too often, parents bombard their teens with a long list of To-Dos when their teen first walks in the door. Give teens time to decompress from the pressures, stresses and emotions of the day before you ask them to do chores. Timing is everything.
7. Pushing Our Teens Too Hard
Our teens need to choose their own path, even if it’s not the path that we ourselves took or want them to take. We can’t live through our teens. We can’t make them become something or someone they’re not. We can’t view our kids’ activities or successes as our own. It puts tremendous pressure on them and it ignores what they uniquely bring to the world.
Always be on the lookout for ways our egos are impacting our parenting, and work to remove our own outcomes from theirs.
8. Putting Your Relationship on “Auto-Pilot”
Avoid getting into a rut with your teen. Let them know they’re important to you by taking the time and putting in the energy to come up with fun, new ideas to do together. Spend time together. Go on an unexpected adventure or volunteer together. Watch their favorite show with them. Laugh often and let them know in big and small ways how much you enjoy spending time with them.
9. Not being the “Friend” They Need
Being your teens friend, does not mean telling them your deep secrets and acting like their peer. Good boundaries make for good “friendships” with teens.
Being a good “friend” to our teens means keeping the door open for relaxed, non-judgmental conversations about what’s really going on inside. Just like you don’t want your friends to try to “fix” everything you tell them you’re struggling with and teens don’t want or need that either.
Open up for good, deep listening. They have their own answers. Help them learn to trust themselves, not just to listen to you. Be a safe place for them to land when they need you the most.
10. Unjustified Lack of Trust in your Teen
Most teen’s starting place is a desire to do the right things, and please their parents. Too often, we don’t give our teens the chance to prove themselves or their own decision-making. If we don’t begin trusting our kids, how will they ever become trustworthy?
When my son was 13, I told him, “I trust you.” He smiled and said, “I know Mom.” Then I said, “No, you don’t understand. Of course, I trust you, to be honest and a good person. You do what you’re supposed to do and work hard. Yes. What I mean is, I trust that you’re going to make a lot of mistakes. You’re going to make the wrong decision a lot of times over the next few years. And that’s OK. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not stretching, reaching and growing in the ways you need to over this next 10 years of your life. So, WHEN you make mistakes, just know that’s what it means to be human. That’s what it means to learn and grow. We can talk about those mistakes – and usually there were positive and negative outcomes – and we can learn, stretch and grow together.”
11. Allowing Rules to Overshadow Your Relationship
Too many rigid, inflexible rules and suffocating boundaries take their toll on your relationship with your teen. They trigger them to sneak around, lie to you, rebel and eventually, erode your relationship.
If there are rules in your relationship with your teen, ask yourself what it would take to turn those into “agreements” with your teen? Can we have an agreement that you will tell me where you are and when you think you’ll be home? My part of the agreement is that I’ll always be glad you told me, instead of complaining, judging, or trying to change your plans without an important reason (like missing a family commitment, etc.)
The ultimate goal is to help your teen internalize a belief system based on mutual respect and open communication.
Never give your teen a reason to lie to you. Every time one of my teens tells me something – whatever it is -- the first thing I say is, “I’m glad you told me.”
12. Demanding your Teen Spend Time with You
Our goal of the way we relate to our teens should be to make sure they WANT to spend time with us. Ask them what they’d enjoy doing, when they want to do it, and for how long. Let them know they can try it out and have the choice to leave when they’re ready. They will be more likely to try things and they just might stick around the whole time if they know they have the choice to bow out when they’re ready (i.e. Let them take their own car, or walk/bus home separate from the rest of the family as needed. Everything doesn’t have to be all or nothing.)
Be curious about what’s really fun for them and find ways for you to authentically enjoy doing what’s fun for them with them.
Be understanding when whatever the family is doing, just doesn’t work for your teen at that moment. Let them have as much autonomy with their time and energy as possible. Let them do things with friends even if the rest of the family is doing something else.
This is the time in your child’s life when their peers become as important and often more important than their families (at least in the moment).
If you want your teen to want to spend time with you, make sure you respect them and the way they want to spend time with you, with their peers, with themselves, and with technology.
Often parents struggle with their teens use of “screens.” Try lightening up about how much time your teen spends gaming on-line. Ask them questions about what makes it so engaging for them. Ask if you can play along sometime. See what positive impact being more open about screen time has on your relationship with your teen.
13. (added by Purpose Parenting)
NEVER embarrass your teen!
If you know something you would say is embarrassing to your teen, DON'T say it. Period.
If you unknowingly said or did something that embarrassed them and they tell you not to do that again, apologize and don't ever do it again. It's very simple.
No parent is perfect. If we’re doing our job, we’re learning alongside our teens.
Learning to recognize the things we do that push our teens away is vital to having a strong relationship with our teens.
We keep our teens close when we listen to them fully and openly, when we respect them and their growing need for autonomy, when we avoid criticism, when we find non-threatening, fun ways to connect and enjoy being together.