Teens want their space and miss their parents | Speaking Pink

Shannon West - Contributed
Shannon West
— image credit: Contributed

I’ve had several conversations recently with teens about their relationships with their parents.

Sweet stories of closeness during childhood are held in great regard. Days of family outings and quiet talks at home are marked as sacred moments.

The years of sharing details of their life with parents are celebrated as having taken place. These moments are also tenderly missed, as they don’t quite feel this same closeness anymore.

As these conversations unfold, there’s an expressed desire to be close and connected to their parents in these ways of the past. There’s a genuine desire to be in significant and life-giving family relationships and a frustration for how to create this bond once again. There’s also a longing to feel these “roots of family” while also “spreading their wings.”

For nearly every family, there are seasons where space and distance enter a relationship between parent and child. Within our culture, we are led toward the expectation the adolescent years bring a desire for independence and parental resistance. During these years, young people are seeking to form an identity and sense of self apart from their parents, and the effects often include a time of seeking separation from family members.

Frustration from both young adults and parents may arise during these years, often being viewed as a direct response to youth’s quest for space and separateness. In light of conversations I’ve known with many young people, I’d like to challenge us all to consider how this sense of experienced frustration in relationships is also equally connected to a deep longing for meaningful relationships and family closeness.

Regardless of age, we all have a desire to balance being in relationship with experiencing a sense of individuality or separateness. The experience of ourselves as separate individuals is ideally known within a context both apart from and within relationship. We need space and we also need connection. When we do not experience this sense of differentiation within relationships, often anxiety and strife are the results. Where balance of self and other is achieved, there is greater harmony within us and with others.

When we feel freedom and permission to bring differences into relationships, there is an assurance we can remain connected and close to another while being permitted to bring the uniqueness of ourselves. For the adolescent, this process often includes the desire to bring different beliefs, thoughts and values into the context of family. This process can be overwhelming, as differences may clash with family values or parental expectations where there used to be greater cohesion and shared ideals in earlier years.

Often, as a means of minimizing frustration, it becomes easier (in the short term) to distance or cut-off from family relationships. It is not always easy or comfortable to invest in the work of building relationships with loved ones and family members that come together around difference. Where this is present, there is often a tremendous amount of sadness, grief and anger that arises for both young adults and parents. There is another way though—toward respecting individuality while nurturing family closeness.

As the holidays draw near, it’s an ideal time for families to talk about these ideas together, celebrating family spaces that feel good, and working together to create difference where needed. These are precious and valuable years worthy of this effort, and I wish your family much success in enjoying the closeness you all desire.


Shannon is the owner of Speaking Pink, a therapy practice for teenage girls and twenties women in Kirkland. Email: shannon@speakingpink.com.




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