Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

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How Communication Becomes More Complicated in Adolescence

Increased independence in adolescence complicates communication

With onset of adolescence (around ages 9 - 13)and the push for more independence, parent/child communication becomes more complicated than before.

Where the young child, to enjoy togetherness with them, usually wants a lot of communication and companionship with parents; the adolescent, to create more separation, usually wants significantly less.

Still family-centered, the child values the closeness with parents which talking with one another can create. More peer-centered, the adolescent wants more social independence which distance from parents can help establish.

Adolescence changes the relationship that parent and child have traditionally known, the adolescent wanting more separation from them and less togetherness with them than the child. Now communication can become more complicated than before.

Altered by the adolescent process are FOUR FUNDAMENTAL INFORMATION NEEDS between parent and child that are at play in all human relationships. Understanding these needs and how they are typically affected by adolescence can help parents appreciate the challenging changes in communication taking place.

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Two of the information needs serve the cause of sufficient TOGETHERNESS in the relationship: THE NEED TO KNOW and THE NEED TO BE KNOWN.

And two of the information needs serve the cause of adequate SEPARATION in the relationship: THE NEED NOT TO KNOW and THE NEED NOT TO BE KNOWN.

Take them one by one.

THE NEED TO KNOW has to do with being adequately informed and assured. So as the adolescent ventures out into the larger world, parents have an increased need to know about what is happening in her life, while the teenager has a greater need to know not just about the world but that parents will be there with support should she have need.

THE NEED TO BE KNOWN has to do with the need to be adequately understood and recognized. So as the adolescent pushes for more social freedom, parents have an increased need for their rules and restraints to be understood, while the teenager has more need for them to recognize his grown up readiness to make more of his own decisions.

THE NEED NOT TO KNOW has to do with being spared information that feels disturbing or excessive. So as the adolescent spends more time away from home in the company of peers, parents have a need not to know about all the misadventures and misfortunes that happen to other young people who their teenager knows of or personally knows, while the teenager (with enough fears already)needs not to know about the host of worries that are constantly preying on parental minds.

THE NEED NOT TO BE KNOWN has to do with the need for concealment and privacy. So parents don't want the adolescent to know how anxious they are about the risks of his increasing worldly freedoms, while to protect freedom from them he becomes more selective about what personal information he chooses to disclose.

Compared to the child who wanted to know a lot from parents, who wanted to be well known by parents, who was open to what they had to say, and who seemed relatively forthcoming and transparent, communicating with the adolescent can be quite a change. And then there are the ways that information needs can now conflict.

THE NEED TO KNOW vs THE NEED NOT TO KNOW. With knowledge comes responsibility. So although parents may say they have a need to know about their teenager's exposure to and experimentation with substances, they may have a decided need not to know when that use becomes problematic, when they would rather deny this painful reality.

THE NEED TO KNOW vs THE NEED NOT TO BE KNOWN. Understanding can be invasive. So although parents want to know just how sexually serious their teenager's romance is, the teenager is determined to keep that part of the relationships off limits to parents.

THE NEED TO BE KNOWN vs THE NEED NOT TO KNOW. Knowledge can cause suffering. So although the divorcing parents want to let their only child know how the break up is the other parent's fault and why, the loyalty-conflicted teenager finds it emotionally wrenching to be given information from one parent that discredits the other and is very painful to hear.

THE NEED NOT TO BE KNOWN vs. THE NEED TO BE KNOWN. Secrecy can be lonely. So the adolescent who hides her double life from parents by keeping them ignorant and at a distance deeply misses the close connections she sees around her in the family, wishing she could be that forthright and well understood.

And finally, there are the adolescent complaints when parents frustrate an information need.

When parents frustrate the teenager's NEED TO KNOW, the complaint can be: "You tell everyone else what is going on, but you never tell me!"

When parents frustrate the teenager's NEED TO BE KNOWN, the complaint can be: "No one ever asks me what I think we should do!"

When parents frustrate the teenager's NEED NOT TO KNOW, the complaint can be: "I'm tired of hearing about how well the younger kids are doing in school!"

When parents frustrate the teenager's NEED NOT TO BE KNOWN, the complaint can be: "How could you tell my grandparents what I did wrong?"

We teach our young children how to communicate, but our adolescents teach us just how complicated communication can be.

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 the power of therapeutic (life bettering) encounters

 

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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