HALIFAX — When teenagers push parents away, are they actually trying to get closer?
When they spend hours and hours on Facebook, could they be pining for a deeper family connection instead? Despite conventional wisdom, adolescents still long for family ties, says Halifax psychologist Sharon Clark. And if the mixed signals sound confusing, don’t worry.
So is the teenage brain — still not fully developed, still a mystery to many a mom and dad.
Clark is a psychologist and team leader for the IWK Health Centre’s Adolescent Centre for Treatment, which treats teenagers with complex mental health disorders.
She wants parents to know that some of the trouble is a matter of grey matter.
“Your frontal lobes, which is all your decision-making, (are) really not fully developed until you’re into your 20s,” she says in a recent interview. “So sometimes we really need to think about adolescence as being more like a . . . version of a kid than an adult, and I think we push them sometimes too fast to become adult-like when developmentally they’re still not at that stage.”
That means they’re more prone to take risks, less likely to think of the consequences and more apt to become enmeshed in a push-pull between independence and security.
So rather than just tuning out or cracking down, parents should get to know the ever-changing child in their midst.
Be curious, Clark advises. Find out what’s really behind the late nights or the drinking or the defiance. Stay connected. And look for opportunities — if you can imagine — to hang out.
“I think sometimes we forget to invite them to do things,” Clark says.
That’s not to say their parents have to be just like friends.
Clark is a big advocate of structure and responsibility. And consequences, if teens don’t meet those responsibilities.