8 Things Parents Do That Push Their Teens Away

Blond teen girl holding her hand in front of her to push someone away.

8 Things Parents Do That Push Their Teens Away

Published on October 23, 2023

Blond teen girl holding her hand in front of her to push someone away.

Parents play a crucial role in their teenagers’ lives, but sometimes, certain behaviors or actions can unintentionally push our teens away. It’s important to be aware of some of the biggest potential pitfalls. I know I’m guilty of many of them myself, but the important thing is to be aware and do what we can to not push them away. Here are some ways that we can push our teens away without realizing it.

  1. Too Many Check-Ins: Excessive control and micromanagement can make teens feel suffocated and unable to make decisions for themselves. It’s essential to strike a balance between guidance and independence, which isn’t always easy to do. My son’s room is on the other side of the house from where we spend most of our family time, so I often find myself walking over to just “check-in,” which drives him nuts. If there’s no need to be there, he’d rather I just let him have his space. It doesn’t mean I can’t check in once in a while, but too many visits just make him want to spend less time with me, not more.
  2. Lack of Respect for Privacy: Invading a teen’s privacy by reading their texts, going through their belongings, or constantly monitoring their online activity can erode trust and push them away.  It’s one thing to keep an eye on their social media feeds, assuming they allow you into the circle, but it’s another to inspect every little thing that comes through, especially without them knowing. Teens are just a hop, skip, and jump away from adulthood, and they deserve some semblance of privacy. If necessary, set up some ground rules with your teens about boundaries. What are they and you comfortable with as far as privacy is concerned? Not establishing clear and consistent boundaries can lead to confusion and frustration for both parents and teens, but having clear boundaries helps set expectations, so no one is caught off guard.
  3. Constant Criticism: Offering constructive feedback is essential, but constant criticism or comparing a teen to others can damage their self-esteem and hinder communication. My son just turned 18, and if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that I need to choose when it’s worth sharing my opinion and what it’s best to keep quiet. Don’t like what your teen is wearing to prom? Keep it to yourself. As long as they aren’t violating any dress code, teens should be free to express themselves however they want. Concerned about the lackluster approach they’re taking to SAT prep? Now that’s totally worth mentioning, especially if you’re paying for tutoring sessions, for example. I’ve found that forcing yourself to take a second to decide what will really matter and what will only make them feel worse can make a huge difference. Passing judgment on their friends, interests, or choices can also make teens reluctant to open up to their parents about their lives.
  4. Overreacting: My mother had a penchant for overreacting when I was growing up, so I carefully chose what I shared and unfortunately, I ended up keeping a lot from her. I didn’t want that type of relationship with my son, so while it’s hard sometimes, I try to not immediately react to anything he says, especially if it’s something I’m not pleased about.  Reacting with anger, frustration, or over-emotionally to minor issues can make teens hesitant to share their problems or concerns for fear of making things worse.Similarly, ignoring or dismissing a teen’s opinions, feelings, or concerns before they’ve even had a chance to finish explaining them to you can make them feel unheard and undervalued. Listening actively and empathetically is important if you want to keep your teen from pulling away from you.
  5. Being Inconsistent: If I had a dollar for every time I threatened a consequence but didn’t follow through when my son was younger, I’d be rich. Eventually I realized the error of my ways, and I started to consider what I was saying more carefully before I said it. Inconsistent discipline or rules can be confusing and frustrating for teens, and it can keep them at arm’s distance from you because they never know what they’re going to get. Just like adults, teens need stability and predictability in their home environment.
  6. Comparing to Siblings or Peers: Constantly comparing a teen to their siblings or peers can create unhealthy competition and feelings of inadequacy. This is especially easy to do when they’re applying to college — “Charlie already wrote his essay, what haven’t you written yours?” As we all know, every child is different, and the objective should be less about keeping up with others and more about doing what your teen is supposed to be doing, independent of others.What’s more, focusing only on what they haven’t done or what needs improvement without acknowledging their achievements can make teens feel unappreciated, so it’s important to strike a healthy balance.
  7. Ignoring Mental Health: Dismissing or neglecting a teen’s mental health concerns can lead to feelings of isolation and desperation. Mental health should be a priority, but it’s not until recently that society began to discuss it openly, removing any stigmas around it. Keeping an open mind and normalizing the idea of seeking help when we need it can do wonders for kids who feel mentally drained.
  8. Interrupting Independence: It’s easy to jump in and do things that I wish my son would do, just to get them done, like picking up his room or taking out the garbage. But it’s important to encourage independence and decision-making in appropriate areas. Trying to handle everything for them, especially when it comes to college applications, for example, can hinder their growth and keep them from developing the skills they need to not just survive but thrive.

It’s important to remember that every teen is unique, and what may push one away may not affect another in the same way. Maintaining open communication, empathy, and a willingness to adapt to your teen’s evolving needs and boundaries can help strengthen your relationship and prevent these potential pitfalls.

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