My 17-Year-Old Is Drifting Away! What Should I Do?

Filed under: Teens, Empty Nest, Expert Advice: Tweens, Social & Emotional Growth: Teens, Education: Teens, Expert Advice: Family Time

Dear AdviceMama:

I have a 17-year-old daughter and I sometimes feel like we're drifting apart. We used to be close, but not so much now. Is this just a part of growing up? Do I just give her the space she needs?

Signed,
Sad Mom

Dear Sad Mom,

You're asking one of the most common questions posed by parents of adolescents: Should I accept my teenager's lack of interest in spending time with me and back off entirely, or make a different kind of effort to stay connected?

This issue is confusing to us because our teenage kids often send mixed signals. One minute they're "normal" -- actually making eye contact and laughing at our jokes -- and the next they're tripping over themselves to get out of the house as soon as their friends honk the horn to pick them up.

It's tempting to let teens drift away, especially when they seem to prefer the company of their peers (or cell phones) to us. Indeed, it's hard to avoid taking their disinterest personally, or to keep reaching toward our kids when they show so little interest in reaching back.

But your daughter still needs you. While a 17-year-old does have to move away from her parents, the journey of adolescence isn't simply about pushing Mom and Dad away to appear to be separate; it's about a young person exploring who she is, and is not, with the loving support of a caring parent to act as a sounding board, safety net and trusted adviser.

Listen to your daughter without forcing unwanted advice on her, so she can discover what she thinks and stands for. Keep abreast of what she's up to and make sure she's safe without being overly intrusive or laying guilt trips on her for stepping further into her own life.

Encourage her to explore her independence, but make sure she knows you're in the background if she hits a wall. Think in smaller units of time when you look for bonding moments. Your daughter may not want to go with you to a movie, but she might want to play a few hands of cards, or join you for a walk with the dog. And by all means, if there's a special event or family get together, expect her to be there!

Focus on consistent bursts of togetherness, and be a quiet but constant presence in the background of your daughter's life. Don't take her distance personally, and most of all, don't give up on staying connected. Your love is all-important nourishment to her heart; she will always need you.

Yours in parenting support,
AdviceMama

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.