It’s super common for parents of teens to come to a session saying that they want their kids to stop being on their phone so much or stop treating home like a hotel.
It’s a hard transition when teens start to put so much of their focus on their friends. It seems disrespectful, seems like it demonstrates being ungrateful and it makes sense given that there are other behaviors that show up that feel disrespectful and ungrateful.
Let’s look at this from a developmental perspective.
The three biggest developmental tasks during adolescence
In order to become a well-adjusted adult, there are development tasks that must be accomplished during adolescence. How fast each stage is accomplished and how smooth the process is varies for each individual.
Three important ones are independence, physical development/body image and identity formation.
It’s common for adolescents to start to pull away from their family and want to do their own thing. “Early adolescents crave privacy and desire to control their personal information as they carve out a life separate from that of their parents.”
Although this is a good thing and is necessary for their development, it’s a little scary for parents to give them the freedom they desire. Developing independence can include trying new things, making their own decisions and taking on more responsibility. During this time they will need space and privacy to learn how to be independent, however, there will need to be some boundaries in place to keep them safe.
As adolescents begin to physically develop they have to adjust to how their body is changing and this is when body image comes into play. The desire to be “normal” is very common which means adolescents typically compare themselves to other adolescents. “Physical changes may not occur in a smooth, regular schedule. Therefore, adolescents may go through awkward stages, both in their appearance and physical coordination.” (“Adolescent Development”. Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002003.htm).
These changes can cause adolescents to become self-conscious and/or sensitive which can cause them to pull away from their parents.
During adolescence, individuals will “try out” different appearances and behaviors to see which one feels like them. But it goes beyond the behaviors and appearances; they are forming their own values, thoughts and opinions, which all play a role in forming their identity.
“Young people’s identities are shaped by lots of factors — family, cultural and societal expectations, experiences with institutions like school and the media, and friends.” (Williams, Joanna. “Developing Adolescent Identify”. Center for Parent and Teen Communication. September 4, 2018.https://parentandteen.com/developing-adolescent-identity/).
There is a shift at some point during these years that prompts teens to start thinking about who they are and who they want to be. As they start to learn who they are, separate from their parents and family, they start to gain a true sense of self and begin to feel comfortable asserting their identity. (Fraser-Thrill, Rebecca. “What is Individuation?”. Very Well Mind. October 7, 2021. www.verywellmind.com/individuation)
Why spending time with friends supports these developmental tasks
As adolescents start to pull away from their parents, they gravitate towards friends for support and guidance. “Friendships are incredibly important during adolescence. Teen friendships help young people feel a sense of acceptance and belonging. They support the development of compassion, caring, and empathy.” (“The Importance of Teen Friendships”. Newport Academy. June 13, 2022. www.newportacademy.com/resources/empowering-teens/teen-friendships/.)
It’s natural for teens to choose time with friends over time with parents. When they spend time with friends they feel less stress because they are going through the same things and their friends understand them. Having this supportive outlet helps them deal with any challenging feelings that come with the big developmental tasks, helping them to feel less alone.
How to support your teen’s development
FIRST: When you put limits on time with friends, consider where that limit is coming from. Is it based on your needs or theirs? If it’s based on your needs then think about what need is being met for your adolescent by spending time with friends. This can help you see how it is actually a positive way you can support them.
SECOND: Have limits that are enforceable and sustainable. If the limit is not easy to enforce or uphold, then the lines can get blurry and the boundaries aren’t clear. This can be confusing for your teen.
Give a short, but well thought out reason behind the limit, something your teen can respect even if they don’t like it. As they are maturing and understanding things on a more adult level, it will make more sense to them if they know the reason and you have been up front about it.
Trying to control your teen and come between them and their friends will only push them further away. Acknowledging that their friends are important and encouraging them to develop and nurture their friendships will let them know that you support them.