teenage alienation

6 Ways to Alienate Your Teenager

When Will’s biological father, Lou, came back into Will’s life after a 14-year absence, Will was thrilled. Though Will’s uncle, Phil, had taken care of Will for years, Lou had finally taken an interest in his son. After just a short time reconnecting, Will was ready to spend the summer traveling the country with his dad. They bonded at a carnival where, for the first time in his life, Will called Lou “Dad.” A few days later, his bags packed for their trip, Will arrived in the living room, excited and ready to go, finding Lou almost all the way out the door. Will called to Lou: “Daddy-o! What’s up?” Lou turned back to Will and said, “Will, I’m glad you’re here. Some business came up I’ve got to handle. So we’re going to have to put our trip on hold. You understand?”

Will stammered a few platitudes and wished Lou well, but addressed him as Lou instead of as Dad. After Lou left, Will listed off all the things he’s learned to do, and the things he’d someday do, without Lou in his life. Then Will looked at his uncle and cried out, “How come he don’t want me, man?” In this, an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that stands out among the rest, Lou had been given a second chance to rebuild his relationship with his son. Instead, he pushed Will away. While not all dads alienate their teens in such a definitive way, all of us are guilty of pushing them away without realizing. Here are 6 things dads do that cause teenage alienation.

A parent comparing teens to others is damaging.

1. Comparing Them to Others

Teenagers are constantly comparing themselves to others, looking to see if they measure up. They often compare themselves to the images they see in shows and advertising and consistently keep track of all of their clicks and likes on social media. A parent comparing teens to others is damaging because it tells teens that they’re being measured against a standard they can’t live up to.

2. Not Allowing Them to Fail

The temptation to become helicopter parents doesn’t go away when our kids become teenagers. In some ways, I think it’s easier to parent that way with teenagers because we can see how their failures might have more serious consequences. But if we don’t allow them the room to fail in the small things, we deny them the opportunity to discover that they are still loved when they fail. This can cultivate in our kids an unwillingness to try something new because they are afraid they won’t succeed.

3. Gloating When They Fail

When she was 19, a friend of mine went to buy her first car, and purposely left her dad out of the transaction. Her dad is a former military mechanic. She came home with a beautiful car, but one with an engine that only had a few months of life left. With his background as a mechanic and decades of owning vehicles of his own, he had every right to gloat at her failure. But when parents do that, we increase a sense of shame in our teenagers which, in turn, will keep them from us in those moments they deeply need our help.

4. Having No Empathy

When I look back on my own teenage years, I remember the things I often lost sleepover. It often surrounded a girl I liked or an awkward thing I said in class. Looking back, I never really dated any of those girls and I regularly say awkward things. When my teenagers come to me with their own angsts, it can be easy to dismiss them out of hand. After all, we all grew out of it and so will they. But our lack of empathy causes teenage alienation, as teens will hear from us that their feelings don’t really matter.

5. Not Trusting Them

Teenagers are often seen as being immature, irresponsible, and undeserving of trust. As parents, we can see how our teens are also capable of so much more. One of the simplest ways to draw the potential from our kids is to trust them with something important despite whatever negative consequences might result. When we do that, our kids often rise to the occasion. At worst, we get a teachable moment in their failures. When we don’t trust them, refusing to let them borrow the car or micromanaging their high school academics, we are teaching them that we don’t trust them—a lesson they won’t soon forget.

6. Substituting Time With Stuff

Kids crave time with their dads. When they are younger, kids can be relentless in asking for our time: that we play with them, read to them, cuddle with them, and so on. When they get older, it can be tempting to let these habits pass away and, instead of giving them time, we give them a big allowance and whatever their hearts desire. Teenage alienation comes when instead of giving quality time to our kids, we work harder to get more stuff, more trips, and more money. In doing so, we teach our teenagers that things can be more important than relationships.

Sound off: What are some other ways you accidentally can cause teenage alienation?

Huddle up with your kids and ask, “Have I ever done something that made you not want to be around me? If so, what was it?”