Question: Our teenager has been spending all of his time with friends, and as a result he’s never available to take part in family activities. What should we do?


Relax. A good portion of your teen’s behaviour is part of a normal developmental process called "separation and individuation." Between the ages of 6 and 12 a child’s need to identify with his peer group starts to take precedence over his sense of identification with parents and family. This continues through the teen years and usually concludes with complete separation and independence by age 18 or 20. To resist this natural pulling away only hinders growth and creates unnecessary tension in the household.

You can make your son’s transition from childhood to adulthood smoother and more navigable if you keep the following suggestions in mind.

Reassess your own motives

First, as difficult as this sounds, you need to reassess your own motives. Is it possible that you have selfish motives for wanting your child to stay close to you? Do you have a hidden emotional need that you’re expecting him to fulfill? Are you afraid of letting go and seeing him make mistakes on his own? If so, you need to realize that these are your problems, not his.

Once you’ve settled these questions, you need to find a way to embrace and affirm the shift that’s occurring in your teen’s outlook. In other words, allow for separation while simultaneously helping him realize that he’s wanted at home, too. It’s better to bend with the winds of change than snap under their pressure. Since his peers are so important to him, you should start thinking in terms of encouraging him to develop a positive social life and form healthy friendships. You can’t actually pick his friends for him, of course, but you can increase his chances of making good choices by shaping his environment. Help him get involved with a solid, interesting church youth group. Urge him to take part in missions trips, sports, or other Christian activities. If he enjoys music or drama, he may benefit from working with the church worship team.

Host activities for your teen's friends

Another way to exert a measure of positive influence in this area is to host activities for your son’s friends. For instance, you could throw a back-to-school party or organize a summer barbecue. This will provide you with a window into your teen’s peer group as well as a discreet and relaxed opportunity to chaperone his interaction with friends. You might also encourage him to invite friends to take part in family events. While there’s certainly a place for "family-only" activities, there’s no reason why you can’t devise additional outings of a more inclusive nature. If you go on a ski trip, let him bring a couple of buddies along. He’ll be less resistant to family outings if you design them to be more attractive from his point of view.

If you’d to discuss these matters at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department at your convenience. Our counsellors are available to speak with you Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. They’d be happy to assist you in any way they can. In the meantime, you may want to procure a copy of Tim Sanford’s Losing Control and Liking It, a book written specifically for moms and dads who are struggling in their role as parents of teenagers. It’s available from our ministry and can be ordered by visiting our online bookstore.

Excerpted from the booklet Growing Pains: Advice for Parents of Teens. © 1999 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used with permission.

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