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Help! My Child has turned into a Teenager.

By: Alison Bellevue, Psy.D. | Director of Child, Adolescent, and Family Services

As a parent, do you ever feel like as soon as you get a handle on what’s going on with your child, she changes? It’s as if your child can sense just when you are starting to feel confident and that’s when he changes the rules. This feeling of uncertainty often arises for parents and is most pronounced during the transition from childhood to adolescence. Children begin this developmental shift at different times, beginning as early as 10-years-old and as late as 13-years-old. Here is a brief guide to help you understand what is typical for children this age and tips on how best to foster and maintain a strong relationship with your child during this transition.

Typical Behavior:

  • Seeking greater independence and responsibility
  • Developing their identity by prioritizing their own values and sense of morality
  • Exploring their sexual and gender identities and forming romantic relationships
  • Placing higher importance on peer relationships and social standing, as opposed to familial relationships
  • Greater risk taking
  • A belief they are invincible
  • Experiencing and displaying intense emotions

Tips on responding to your child and continuing to foster a close and supportive relationship:

  • Always start with validation. Validation is simply communicating to your child that her emotions, thoughts, or actions make sense. You are acknowledging your child’s experience. Validation is not approval or praise. Using validation helps to reduce your child’s emotional intensity and foster closeness.
    • Ex. “I understand why you’re sad. I would be sad too if my friends didn’t invite me to hang out after school.”
    • Ex. “I get that you think it’s unfair that you aren’t allowed to stay out as late as all of your friends AND your curfew is still 10:00pm.”
    • Ex. “It makes sense that you would lie because you were afraid of my reaction AND lying to me is not okay and causes me to distrust you. 
  • Find time to engage in enjoyable activities with your child without placing any demands on them or bringing up topics they do not want to discuss. Suggest doing something your child enjoys. Play her favorite video game with her or bake together. Be understanding if your child does not prioritize time with you. Remember, friends are the most important thing right now. Even spending 5-15 minutes a day together without any demands will help strengthen your relationship. 
  • Give your child opportunities to experience greater freedom and responsibilities. Perhaps it is allowing your child to go certain places independently or setting greater expectations for weekly chores. Be sure to set clear expectations and provide praise when she meets those expectations. 

Hopefully this information helps you navigate these changes with your child. Don’t forget to remind yourself that your child’s job at this time is to assert his independence and find her own way, so if that’s what’s happening then you all are “doing it right.”

Published April 17, 2019

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