At the time of my writing, one of my teens has just walked into the house after being at his friend's all day. He called upstairs to let us know that he was home and then headed straight to his room. Frankly, I feel a little disappointed. I haven't seen him all day and was hoping he'd come upstairs and want to hang out. Of course, I could go down to his room, and depending on his mood, engage him in some form of interaction with greater or lesser success depending on his mood, his blood sugar levels, or the dictates of his testosterone. But, I feel a bit hurt that his first thought upon coming home isn't to come upstairs and want to spend time with me.
The newsflash is that I am no longer the center of his universe, and if things go the way they're supposed to, I will grow increasingly less like the sun--providing light and sustenance--and more like the moon, drifting in and out of view, my influence more tidal than anything else. At some point, typically adolescence, there is a slow, but steady reversal in the balance of desires of who wants to spend time with whom.
But, in the same way that there's a lack of symmetry between my desire to spend time with my son and his presumed desire to spend time with me, there is a lack of symmetry between my yearning to call my parents and their longing to hear from me. I'm blessed with good parents so I don't mind calling them and, sometimes, even enjoy it. But it probably means more to them in the same way it means more to me to talk to my kids than it might to them.
There is a danger in how we manage this shift towards being needed less by our adolescents. It's tempting to respond to feeling hurt or less valued by withdrawing or rejecting back--or to mistake our lessening of influence to mean that we no longer have any influence; or to support our teenager's independence by being completely letting go of the reins. These are all mistakes. As adolescent specialist Mike Riera says, as our teens get older, we need to shift more into the role of consultant than manager. We're still involved, but we need to give them more and more control over their lives.
Many parents of teens worry that their teens haven't learned anything that they've been taught by them. In reality, despite an almost aggressive refutation of our ideals, values, and identities, teenagers typically emerge out of adolescence with values and ideals much like ours. In other words, just because your teenager acts like you and your ideas are lame, doesn't mean that he won't one day embrace those lame ideas as his very own.
Dr. Joshua Coleman is an international expert on parenting, marriage, and relationships. He is a Senior Fellow with the Council on Contemporary Families and is a frequent guest on the Today Show. He has also appeared on ABC 20/20, Good Morning America, NPR, The BBC, and many other news and radio programs. His advice has appeared in the New York Times, The Times of London, The Guardian (UK), Psychology Today, The Chicago Tribune, and many other publications. Dr. Coleman is a psychologist in private practice in Oakland and San Francisco, and the father of twin boys and a girl. His new book WHEN PARENTS HURT: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don't Get Along (HarperCollins) will be released in July, 2007. Sign up for his FREE, twice monthly ezine THE COLEMAN REPORT at www.drjoshuacoleman.com