Many people think that families become less important to children as they move into the teenage years. But research shows that your child needs your family and the support it offers as much as she did when she was younger.
It’s true that family relationships change during adolescence. When your child was young, your role was to nurture and guide him. Now you might be finding that your relationship with your child is becoming more equal. Most young people and their families have some ups and downs during these years, but things usually improve by late adolescence as children become more mature. And family relationships tend to stay strong right through.
For teenagers, families are a source of care and emotional support. Families give teenagers practical, financial and material help. And most teenagers still want to spend time with their families, sharing ideas and having fun.
Family is the most important thing to me. They’re my own support system. Everybody thinks friends are more important, but they’re not. Friends are great, but they’ll come and go. Family is always there.
– Brianna, teenager
Why your child needs you
Adolescence can be a difficult time – your child is going through rapid physical changes as well as emotional ups and downs. Young people aren’t always sure where they fit, and they’re still trying to work it out. Adolescence can also be a time when peer influences and relationships can cause stress for teenagers and their families, and family support can be vital to getting through these challenges.
During this time, your family can be a secure emotional base where your child feels loved and accepted, no matter what’s going on in the rest of her life. Your family can build and support your child’s self-belief, confidence and optimism. When your family sets rules, boundaries and standards of behaviour, you give your child a sense of consistency and predictability. And believe it or not, your life experiences and knowledge can be really useful to your child – she just might not always want you to know that!
Supportive and close family relationships can reduce risky teenage behaviour, such as alcohol and drug use, and problems such as depression. They can also boost your child’s feelings of being connected to school, and his desire to do well academically.
Strong family relationships can go a long way towards helping your teenager grow into a well-adjusted, considerate and caring adult.
Research suggests that just being around family is associated with fewer behaviour problems in teenagers. This could be as simple as being in the kitchen when your child’s in her room, so she knows she could come and talk to you if she wanted to. Teenagers benefit from knowing that support is available, even though they might not be using it.
Building positive family relationships
The ordinary, everyday things that families do together can help build and sustain strong relationships with teenagers. These tips might help you and your family:
Regular family meals are a great chance for everyone to chat about their day, or about interesting stuff that’s going on or coming up. If you encourage everyone to have a say, no-one will feel they’re being put on the spot to talk. Also, many families find that meals are more enjoyable when the TV’s not invited!
- Try setting aside time for fun family outings – you could all take turns choosing activities. A relaxing holiday or weekend away together as a family can also build togetherness. Our article on teenagers and free time has more ideas for things you can do as a family.
One-on-one time with your child gives you the chance to enjoy each other’s company. It can also be a chance to share thoughts and feelings. If you can, try to find opportunities for each parent to have this time with your child.
- Celebrate your child’s accomplishments, share his disappointments, and show interest in his hobbies. You don’t have to make a big deal of this – sometimes it’s just a matter of showing up to watch your child play sport or music, or giving him a lift to extracurricular activities.
Family traditions, routines and rituals can help you and your child set aside regular dates and special times. For example, you might have a movie night together, a favourite meal or cooking session on a particular night, a family games afternoon or an evening walk together.
- Agreed household responsibilities give kids of all ages the sense that they’re making an important contribution to family life. These could be things like chores, shopping or helping older or younger members of the family.
Limits and consequences give teenagers a sense of security, structure and predictability. Agreed-on rules help your child know what standards apply in your family, and what will happen if she pushes the boundaries.
- Have family meetings to solve problems. These give everyone a chance to be heard and help work out a solution that everyone’s part of.
If you feel that your family really isn’t connecting, you might find a family counsellor or other family support service helpful.