It happens around the age of 14. Maybe a little before, maybe a little later, but it will happen. Your once completely dependent child will make their move to become independent. It all goes down in a subtle fashion. One moment life is like it always was with them, loving your constant company. Then you find yourself routinely asking, “Where is my kid? I haven’t seen her all night.” Where are they? Away from you. Don’t take it personal.
I’m experiencing this parental trauma for the second time now. The youngest and I have been bonded tight since she was born. At six months, our family took a whole new direction in life, and full-time responsibility of her welfare became my chief responsibility. I’ve watched over her like a hovering hawk ever since. Helicopter parenting? I invented it. Now she needs to break free. It’s normal, but that doesn’t make it feel any less like a gut punch to Daddy. Yet, I have to let nature take its course.
Where I was once her protective cocoon for her safe growth, now she emerges ready to grow fully by her own experiences. For the sake of our better understanding, let’s take a deeper look at why Independence Day for teenagers is so important.
Why Does it Happen?
They are seeking to discover their own identity. For my daughter, she’s no longer content to just think what I think, believe what I believe, and do what I do. She wants to put those actions and principles to the test. How does she feel about certain things? What has she experienced so far that proves them true or false? More bluntly, they are old enough now to know the truth. It turns out their parents are just human beings like everyone else, capable of being wrong and making mistakes. That’s a huge revelation to a teenager.
How Does it Grow Them?
In the process of seeking personal identity, they broaden their horizons and influences. With my girls, Disney movies will always hold treasured status, but both have broken free of fanciful dreams and simple endings. The oldest found classic art in the form of musical theater during this time. Phantom of the Opera, Fiddler on the Roof, and Sound of Music opened new doors for her. She walked through. My youngest finds new avenues of discovery through books and music that challenge her intellect. As a parent, we always have to be mindful of the content that is growing them, but also give them space to explore. They must be allowed freedom from our controlled choices for them, in order to compare and contrast the validity of what we’re teaching them.
How Do We Handle It?
Suck it up and be quiet is the best advice. This process will go a lot smoother if we (dad) aren’t fighting it the entire way. Even the best teens produce drama, and when you throw in all the physical changes they are experiencing there is going to be plenty to keep a parent busy. Adding to the drama by getting our feelings hurt or forcing our presence, only serves to make unhappy homes. Know this: They haven’t stopped loving or needing you. They are fully aware of our presence and desperately want it to be where they expect it to be. My daughters both know that Daddy’s face will always be found when they come looking for it. Knowing that gives them the freedom to stick their toes in the water and test it.
The Promise of Return
They will come back to you. Consider the teenager years as them on a journey of self-discovery. When it all starts to fall into place, they come back. My oldest has done this. She wants now to show me what she has learned and become. I already know, because I never stopped watching, but she now returns seeking my stamp of approval. I couldn’t be more proud of who she is blossoming into. Still lots of work to be done, but she’s on the right path. That’s the best a parent can wish for.
Huddle Up Question
Take your teen out for their favorite meal and ask, “What do you need most from me right now?”