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Teen Pulling Away from Family

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: Within the last year my 14-year-old daughter has changed so much. She always used to be by my side constantly, talking and laughing with me. Now she spends most of her time in her room talking on the phone or listening to music. She's a wonderful student and cheerleader but I'm wondering why she wants to spend so much time in her room away from her family. Please give some advice.

A: This is a normal, healthy stage in adolescent development where the child seeks to pull away from her parents as she attempts to develop an independent identity apart from her family. At her age there is a powerful need to maintain one's position in a social group, clique or circle of friends. Being an unwanted "outsider" socially is the ultimate dilemma for a teen, since their self-worth is greatly determined by their peers at this stage. Teens feel that they must stay in frequent contact (witness the number of times your daughter will talk or email the same kids in the course of one day) to maintain social position in these groups.

If your daughter's separation from family, into the confines of her room, were accompanied by changes such as erratic moodiness, chronic anger and withdrawal from friends and activities, I would say that you had some cause for worry. But you state that she remains an engaged student, cheerleader and appears to be a happy child. I think your biggest adjustment to her desire for is your own sense of loss. You enjoyed the feelings of closeness and intimacy that you shared with your daughter - "She always used to be by my side constantly, talking and laughing with me." - and now you miss having her around you, enjoying each other's company on a regular basis. Dealing with these feelings of loss as our children mature and want to spend less time with us is part of parents' normal, healthy adjustments to their children's growing up and moving away. You can and need to stay connected to your daughter by remaining interested in her life and showing her that you still care for her deeply. From what you have said, she seems to be moving through life with a sense of being loved and supported, knowing that you are always there for her.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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