Relationships with parents and families: how they change in adolescence
Teenagers’ relationships with their parents and families change during adolescence, but teenagers need parent and family support as much as they did when they were younger.
When your child was young, your role was to nurture and guide them. Now you might be finding that your relationship with your child is becoming more equal.
You’re a source of care, emotional support, security and safety for your child, as well as practical and financial help. Your child still loves you and wants you to be involved in their life – even though their attitude or behaviour might sometimes send a different message.
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.
Why pre-teens and teenagers need parents and families
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 cause some stress.
During this time your family is a secure emotional base where your child feels loved and accepted, no matter what’s going on in the rest of their life. Your family can build and support your child’s confidence, resilience, optimism and identity.
When your family sets rules, boundaries and standards of behaviour, you give your child a sense of consistency, predictability, safety and belonging.
And believe it or not, your life experiences and knowledge can be really useful to your child – they just might not always want you to know it!
Supportive and close family relationships protect your child from risky behaviour like alcohol and other drug use and problems like depression. Your support and interest in what your child is doing at school can boost their desire to do well academically too.
Strong family relationships can go a long way towards helping your child grow into a well-adjusted, considerate and caring adult.
Building positive family relationships with teenagers: tips
The ordinary, everyday things that families do together can build and strengthen relationships with teenagers. These tips might help you and your family.
Love and appreciation
Show your child how much you love and appreciate them. This can be as simple as saying ‘I love you’ each night when they go to bed or giving them a high-five.
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 isn’t invited and mobile phones and tablets are switched off!
Try setting aside time for fun family outings – you could all take turns choosing activities. A 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 stay connected and enjoy each other’s company. It can also be a chance to share thoughts and feelings. This might be as simple as going for a walk together, watching a movie, or telling your child a story. Or you might find a regular hobby to do together, like cooking or yoga.
Celebrate your child’s accomplishments
Celebrating your child’s accomplishments, sharing their disappointments, and supporting their hobbies sends the message that your child’s interests are important to you. 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 them 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 children and teenagers 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. It helps to give your child some say in which responsibilities they take on.
Agreed-on rules, limits and consequences give teenagers a sense of security, structure and predictability. They help your child know what standards apply in your family, and what will happen if they push the boundaries. When your child is involved in making your family rules, they’re more likely to see them as fair and stick to them. Negotiating rules with your child can also help you to reduce and manage conflict with your child.
Family meetings can help to solve problems. They give everyone a chance to be heard and be part of working out a solution.
If you feel that your family really isn’t connecting, you might find a family counsellor or other family support service helpful.