Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

Welcome to the hard half of parenting

Parent, adolescent, and mutual dislike.

More mutual dislike grows parent and adolescent apart.

Why, compared to childhood (up to about ages 8 - 9) does adolescence tend to make companionship between young person and parent less appealing more of the time? Because as the teenage years unfold, each party finds more cause for mutual dislike. What's happened? Loss is one part of the answer. Separation is the other.

What are lost are the early years where adorable child and adored parent could do little wrong in each other's eyes. Come adolescence, they will never have each other in such an ideal and idealized way again. Love each other as they continue to do, they will not like each other's company so much as they once did. The mutual admiration society that they prized often becomes a mutual irritation society to be endured.

For example, as the early adolescent becomes more self-conscious, he becomes more easily embarrassed by parents and their little offensive ways - their habits, the things they say, how they look. At the same time, parents become more critical of changes for the worse in the adolescent and her loss of endearing childish charms. To the adolescent, parents turn mean. "They're always on my case, in my way, after me to get things done, against what I like, down on how I am, wanting to talk about what I don't want to hear." To parents, the adolescent becomes exploitive. "She uses us for what we can provide, resents us when we don't give or give in how she wants, is always pushing us for more, never appreciates all we do, is only nice to us when there's something she wants from us."

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So who's at fault when each tends to blame the other for becoming more difficult to live with? Ironically, many of the complaints they each have about the other, the other party voices about them. They actually have more in common than they suspect at this abrasive age when it becomes so much easier to rub each other the wrong way. Here are just a few charges commonly expressed in counseling about each other.

The other party:
"Never appreciates all I do."
"Never listens to what I say."
"Is always asking me for more."
"Is never giving me enough."
"Is always criticizing."
"Doesn't understand how hard I try."
"Nags me all the time."
"Is often in a bad mood."
"Is too busy to talk with me."
"Won't see things my way."
"Doesn't respect my opinion."
"Refuses to do what I ask."
"Keeps putting me off until later."
"Has habits that are hard to take."
"Is embarrassing to be seen with."

What is driving these complaints? It's not how the other person is flawed; although that is what both parties often think. It's really about how adult and young person are changing as adolescence is causing them to grow apart. Specifically, it's about the process responsible for this transformation of their relationship, SEPARATION, and three strains from separation that are causing more mutual dislike to grow between them.

First, separation causes more DISTANCE between them. Now they share less time together as the young person is drawn out of the family circle to spend more time in the company of peers. In consequence of this increased exposure to the world and world-view of age-mates, there is a growing sense of having less culturally in common with parents at home and hence less ground for communication. Now there is more estrangement. A major distance complaint of the teenager is: "You don't understand me anymore." A major distance complaint of parents is: "You don't talk to us anymore." In more ignorance of each other, it is easier for misunderstandings to develop and to imagine the worst about what the other party is thinking, feeling, or intending when one doesn't actually know.

Second, separation causes more sources of DIFFERENCE between them. Now differences in characteristics (belonging to different generations), values (subscribing to different popular tastes), habits (practicing different lifestyles), and wants (preferring different pleasures) all begin to contrast them as individuals. In consequence, they fit together less easily than in childhood, they match and mesh less well. Now there is more intolerance. A major difference complaint of the teenager is: "You're so old fashioned!" A major difference complaint of parents is: "How can you dress that way?" Confronted by more incompatibilities between them, they find their tolerances for each other's individuality reduced.

Third, separation causes more DISAGREEMENT between them. Now as they lead more separate lives, there are more arguments over personal freedom initiated by the teenager and more arguments over family responsibility initiated by the parents. The teenager doesn't like having to live on parental terms, and the parents don't like having those terms more frequently contested. Now there is less harmony. A major disagreement complaint of the teenager is: "You're being bossy and overprotective!" A major disagreement complaint by parents is: "You're being uncooperative and don't respect our rules!" Embroiled in more conflict than before, frustration with this opposition plays a greater part in how they get along.

So during adolescence, tensions created by separation - over distance, differences, and disagreement -- do create more mutual dislike. However, in a larger sense, this is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, it is a healthy growing dislike of each other's constant company that partly makes them willing to part company at the end of adolescence, that wears the magic out of their relationship and wears dependency between them down. After all, if they ended up adolescence as enchanted with each other as they were in early childhood, independence would never happen because neither party would be willing to let the other go.

For more about parenting adolescents, see my book, "SURVIVING YOUR CHILD'S ADOLESCENCE"  (Wiley, 2013.) Information at: www.carlpickhardt.com

Next week's entry: Adolescence and parental support.

Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Austin, Texas. His most recent books are: The Connected Father, The Future of Your Only Child, and Stop Screaming.

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