Do you ever just feel like your teen lives a world away from you these days? Oh, she still sits at the dinner table with you (sometimes). And he still sleeps in the same old bedroom in the same home with you. But it just feels like your teen has disconnected. Like he or she is really living somewhere else altogether. Well, I’ve got two simple suggestions for you, even as I live with this changing dynamic in my own teen in my own home.
1. Recognize that it is a normal, healthy dynamic for teens to feel an increasing pull away from home and family toward friends, a special someone, more personal interests, and some kind of life-calling. The transition and process of this normal pulling can be very different for different teens and different families, and it can certainly be tumultuous and problematic at times. But we do well as parents to remember that, fundamentally, it is normal. And rather than fighting them in this process, we will all be better for it if we guide them in this process. As parents, we must see this as the healthy and exciting expansion of our kids’ lives, rather than as the cold casting aside of Mom and Dad. If we actively help them expand their lives in healthy ways, we continue to have an important place in their lives. If we jealously or angrily scold and gripe, we risk cutting our kids off from us prematurely.
2. As normal as this shift may be, it may be happening more abruptly than it should be, thanks to one simple, yet powerful piece of technology: headphones. Headphones are an amazing invention, and they have come a long way in the last decade or so. Whether your teen uses earbuds, Beats, Airpods, or whatever…headphones facilitate privacy when engaging in digital entertainment and communication. At face value, this is neither good nor bad. It is just an option. But as parents, we hold a responsibility to monitor if and when our teens are defaulting to headphones so much that they lose their healthy connection with other elements of the real world around them. And so, sometimes we simply need to tell them to unplug. Be part of the family. Contribute to the conversation. Share their thoughts with the rest of the room. Respectfully listen. Offer a vote toward a group decision regarding an activity or form of entertainment. Sure, you might catch an eye-roll from your teen when you issue the parental dictate to unplug. Oh, well. You’ll live. And so will your teen. And you’ll both be better for it. So don’t go trash your kid’s earphones. Just be willing to insist they take a healthy break from the ears now and then.