The Hidden Price of Forcing Family Time with Your Teen by Aly Pain

This is a critical issue and fine line to walk.

You know you have a limited number of days before your teen leaves home so you’re trying to maintain some family structure and quality time while you have it. You’ve read the studies showing the more connected teens are the less likely they are to participate in risky behaviours so family time is happening no matter how much huffing, puffing, and eye-rolling your teen does.

You’re lucky if you get ‘Hello’.

Your teen’s brain is growing new hardware and developing new software all the same time, necessary to become a successful, independent adult. This starts 2 key processes:

Individuation – a natural physiological development of Self that begins around 11 years old, where children begin to develop their own, more complex, personal perspectives, emotions, and beliefs, separate from those of friends and family (may rebel against the family or cultural norms), secure their own social networks, and become more aware of external performance measures. This is a lifelong process with different stages in adulthood, and may rebel against the family or cultural norms.

Differentiation – the active, ongoing process of defining self, revealing self, clarifying boundaries, and managing the anxiety that comes from risking either greater intimacy or potential separation. Your teen is learning to maintain their sense of self, identity, thoughts, and emotions in relationships with others.

Add these together and your teen needs more alone and downtime than ever to process a world of constant stimulus in an inefficient and growing brain which is going on with or without social media so don’t blame it all on technology. I rarely came out of my room either and I’ve turned out relatively well.

More isn’t better.

I recently read an article  that calculated your child has already spent 75% of their lifetime hours with you by age 12, and 93% by age 18. That’s normal and healthy to support the development processes mentioned above.

Your teen is supposed to have a life and interests outside of your family unit and they want less time together. When you take that personally or force your family time as you count down the days until your baby leaves the nest, you’re inadvertently teaching your teen to ignore what feels right for them.

Setting up the people pleasing pattern.

Imagine your teen in a relationship with someone who constantly begs or demands they spend time together? If your teen has learned to deny or suppress what feels true for them, they’re likely to give in over and over until they don’t know how to get out because they did what they learned. Worse yet, they don’t WANT to get out because it all feels normal even though you’re horrified watching this happen.

All night video chats, being asked to care take another’s insecurities and feelings, made to feel guilty when that relationship isn’t prioritized over all others and even taking part in risky behaviors like substance use to prove how invested they are. This is the price of people pleasing and lacking emotional boundaries.

Moving from No to negotiation.

When your teen is learning to set emotional boundaries and create space in your relationship, please respect them and be compassionate rather than critical or taking it personally. Instead of insisting on quantity time, aim for negotiated quality time and your teen is more likely to be present knowing they were part of the agreement (and they know when it’s over, LOL!).

In our house we went from playing games every night (~3-6yo) to Friday night movies and weekly games (7-12) to weekly or biweekly game nights with the addition of sports, tournaments and our boys growing social schedule. Now at 19 and 21, we might get in monthly games with one family dinner each week, and we all live in the same house for 4-5 months each year!

Be reasonable in the time you’re asking for, and specific about what you’d like in that time. Check that out with your teen, giving them plenty of notice (last minute feels disrespectful of their budding social life). Remember less is more. The quantity of time you spend together can undo any benefits of the smaller quality moments.

This is the summer to create meaningful connection with your teen using quality time rather than count the days until they’re back in school with some form of structure. Join the conversation with me and other caring parents in my private community on Facebook. Click below to start your FREE 30-day trial and get 2 LIVE Q&A sessions!

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