Wayward Teens–Their Parents Left First

MamaMondaysjpgThis isn’t a relational law, and obviously, exceptions always abound, but from my observations, when one takes a big picture look at the life of a wayward teen, they’ll discover, more often than not, the parents left first. I don’t mean they bailed or cut off all ties, but emotionally and in terms of accessibility, parents began to drift further and further away. 

I first noticed this trend when our daughter turned twelve, the legal age for staying home alone. It was as if, for many of her friends, life had changed overnight. Moms started returning to work or working longer hours. Family dinners and game nights were done away with. And as parents drifted further and further away, I heard them say, regarding their teenager, “They don’t want to spend time with me anyway.”

And, if we focus on the eye rolls, the arguments, and overly-dramatic, body-flailing sighs, it’s easy to believe that’s true. It’s easy to believe that as our children age, they no longer need us, or even want to be near us.

But statistics overwhelmingly prove the opposite.

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Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

In a study conducted by Childtrends.org, seventy-nine percent of teenagers enjoy spending time with their parents.

Consider this quote from Dr. John Townsend, author of Boundaries With Teens: “Parents are the center of a child’s life, so it’s always difficult for children to disconnect from them. So when you look at your teen’s surly, angry face, understand that she does not enjoy the alienation any more than you do.” (pg. 24)

In other words, our teens need us.

In fact, according to Ellen Galinsky, President of Families and Work Institute, when conducting interviews with children, she found, “it was teens more than younger children who felt that they didn’t have enough time with their parents.” (You can read the entire interview HERE.)

Our children change dramatically during their tween and teen years, for sure. And our relationship will–must!–change with them. But that doesn’t mean it should become nonexistent. If anything, that is the time when they will most need us.

IMG_1219They need to know we’re on their team. That we “get” them and will always be there for them. When they’re world is shifting and they’re bombarded daily by negativity that tears away at their self-worth and confuses their sense of identity, they need a safe place to land, to be encouraged and uplifted.

If the relationship is hard, work through it. It’s okay–healthy, even–to set boundaries on behavior. Healthy boundaries, not emotional withdrawal. Get help if you need to. But don’t pull away. Too much is at stake. 

Back to my original example… As I mentioned early in this post, when my daughter turned twelve, I noticed a dramatic parental shift–in some. I noticed parents who began to distance themselves from their teens, not intentionally, but rather, through self-justification as they allowed busyness to overshadow relationships. Less than two years later, in every single instance I witnessed, those teenagers began to rebel.

To self-destruct.

But then there was another set of parents, some working, others who chose to stay home, but all who determined to stay involved. To intentionally build and maintain their relationship with their teens. They continued with family dinners, maintained open communication, worked through issues to hold tight to positive relationships. And those teens excelled. They grew increasingly mature and remained close to their parents. In fact, in the second set of teenagers, when difficulty and confusion hit, they turned to their parents first.

As I said, our teens need us. Not just to drive them from place to place or glance at their report cards from time to time. They need us to walk beside them. They need us to carve out time, regularly, where to connect with them on a heart level. Because if we don’t, their hearts will break, one hurried, frazzled, disconnected day at a time.

Let’s talk about this! Parents of teens, what advice would you give to moms of little ones? How can their choices today set the foundation for their relationship with their children later? What are some ways you’ve made a deliberate and consistent effort to connect with your teen’s heart? How do you address those eye rolls and disrespectful behavior without pulling away emotionally? For those with rebellious and aggressive teens, have you sought help, and if so, what was the result?

Share your thoughts with us, because we can all learn from one another!

Other resources you might find helpful:

Boundaries With Teens (Excellent!!)

It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again

Making Lemonade

Somewhere Between a Freak-out and a Pajama Party

And don’t forget to come back Thursday for part two of the S word! (Read part one HERE.)


  1. Great post, Jennifer. I’ve always pondered on why parents tend to back off in the teen years. Yes, they’re hard. And yes they act like they don’t want you around, but these are the years when they need you most.

    1. Thanks, Shannon. Yes, the teen years can be rough, but I’m reminded of the phrase, “Pay now or pay later.” We can either “pay” (time and energy) building or repairing post fall-out. 🙂 Have a great week!

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