Surviving (Your Child's) Adolescence

Welcome to the hard half of parenting

Adolescence as a More "Outlaw" Age

Compared to childhood, adolescence can seem a more "lawless" age for parents

“Sometimes my kid’s adolescence feels like the Wild West of parenting!”

This comment got me to thinking about adolescence as a more “outlaw” age, at least compared with the more socially conforming and compliant conduct that tends to characterize childhood. Think about it.

Start by considering just some of what children are often taught by parents about desirable behavior.

“Do as you’re told.”

“Don’t talk back.”

“Keep your agreements.”

“Tell the truth.”

“Appreciate what you’re given.”

“Work for what you want.”

“Respond when I ask.”

“Stay out of trouble.”

“Help at home.”

“Study hard.”

“Follow the rules.”

“Keep your room picked up.”

Lots of children are given some of this or other comparable parental instruction, and for the most part it is taken. And then around ages 9 – 13, Early Adolescence begins. At this juncture, the young person starts detaching from childhood, parents, and family to begin the journey to adult independence and individuality. Now consider how the young person may start modifying childhood instruction to suit adolescent purposes.

Instead of doing what she is told: “I’ll do what I want!”

Instead of not talking back: “I’ll argue when I disagree!”

Instead of keeping agreements: “I changed my mind!”

Instead of telling the truth: “I didn’t lie; I just forgot!”

Instead of appreciating what is given: “You’re supposed to do for me!”

Instead of working for wants: “Why should I have to earn my way?”

Instead of complying immediately: “I’ll do it in a minute!”

Instead of avoiding trouble: “I just wasn’t thinking!”

Instead of helping at home: “Why should I have to do chores?”

Instead of studying hard: “It’s enough to get by!”

Instead of following the rules: “Not all rules are right!”

Instead of a neat room: “It doesn’t look messy to me!”

Parents find themselves living with a less accommodating daughter or son. In an “outlaw” sense, adolescence is about letting the “bad” child out. Not legally or morally “bad” and always a matter of degree, adolescence usually requires a more oppositional mindset to begin the painful liberation from childhood. In word and action the young person’s Declaration of Detachment seems to say: “I no longer want to be defined and treated as a little child anymore!”

Now there is more bridling against parental restraints and demands. Now there is more rejecting of “childish” ways in order to start acting more grown up. Now the parent/adolescent relationship becomes increasingly incompatible and abrasive. Now they are more often at cross purposes. Gone is the cozy companionship of childhood between a wonderful and winning parent and an adoring and adorable little girl or boy. When detachment from childhood, begins, the outcome of this change can look something like this.

THE CHILD WAS:        THE ADOLESCENT IS MORE:

Considerate…………….Self-centered

Confiding………………Uncommunicative

Open……………………Private

Admiring……………….Critical

Family-focused…………Friend-focused

Interested……………….Bored

Affectionate…………….Untouchable

Close……………………Distant

Compliant...…...………..Resistant

Agreeable………………Argumentative

Content…………………Dissatisfied

Motivated………………Unmotivated

Organized………………Disorganized

Retentive……………….Forgetful

Focused………………...Distracted

No wonder Detachment Parenting is often thankless parenting. Adults make more effort to get the young person’s cooperation only to have their labors taken for granted, even resented when demanding tasks or denying the young person’s wants for her or his best interests.

All this change is why the parent paraphrased at the outset felt like an “outlaw” had taken up residence at home and cast him in the unpopular role of “town marshal” charged with maintaining some semblance of law and order in the family.

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

Next week’s entry: Considering Psychoactive Medication for Your Adolescent

 

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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