It’s a dreaded moment when your child no longer welcomes hugs, kisses or “I love you” from mom or dad. It might happen at 10 years old or he might be 16, but the result is just as hurtful. The good news? It’s usually nothing to worry about.
“It’s a normal developmental stage,” says Dr. Kathryn Bondy Fessler, medical director at The Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, which offers services to young people ages 12-25.
Previously, rejecting parental affection was thought to be associated with the onset of puberty – but not anymore, Fessler says.
“I think it has a lot more to do with at what age the youth decides to more closely identify with their peer group,” she says. That’s not necessarily a conscious decision, though, and it’s all part of developing independence.
“The job of teenagers and young adults is to separate from their family of origin and identify with their peer group. It’s what they’re supposed to do.”
How this looks will be different for everyone – some teens don’t want to be seen in public with their parents while others will connect less at home, too.
“That disruption of the parent-child relationship is often very unsettling for the adults,” she says. “I would argue it’s unsettling for the child as well, even though the child seems to be – and probably is – initiating it.”
Fessler offers these tips:
- Give your kids room to speak. “One of the things that’s really important when your child makes that transition into adolescence is to stop telling them so much and start listening to them more,” she says.
- Keep parenting. Provide boundaries, communicate and keep showing your love. “Go to the band concerts, go to the track meets,” she says. Try not to make a big fuss, but “take your lead from him or her.”
- Leave an encouraging note for your child to find in the morning or when she gets home from school. “Those kinds of things go a long way ,and there’s no response necessary.”
- Talk in the car. “You’re both looking straight forward. It’s a good place to initiate conversations,” she says.
- Plan time together on their terms. “I sat through an awful lot of concerts,” Fessler recalls. Baseball games and even family meals together are other ideas.
- Texting can be a great way to communicate if your teen is up for it.
“Try not to take it personally,” Fessler says. “It can feel really hurtful, but 99.9 percent of the time, it’s really not about you.”
But if you’re worried your child’s behaviors aren’t normal, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
Art by Mary Kinsora
This post is updated regularly.