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Q: This summer our teenager has been spending all of his time with friends, and as a result he’s never available to take part in family activities. What should we do?
Jim: Although you’re probably disappointed by his unavailability, it’s likely not cause for concern. Your son’s behavior is part of a normal process that child development experts call “separation and individuation.” Between the ages of 6 and 12, a child’s need to identify with his peer group starts to take precedence over his sense of identification with family. This continues through the teen years and usually concludes with complete separation and independence between the ages of 18 and 20.
You can make this transition smoother if you keep in mind the following suggestions from Focus on the Family’s counseling team, which deals with this question occasionally from parents in your position:
First, as difficult as it sounds, reassess your own motives. Do you have selfish reasons for wanting your child to stay close? Do you have a hidden emotional need that you’re expecting him to fulfill? Are you afraid of letting go and seeing him make mistakes on his own? If so, you need to realize that these are your problems, not his.
Next, find a way to embrace and affirm this shift in your son’s outlook. Allow for separation while helping him realize that he’s wanted at home, too. One way to achieve this might be to host activities for your son’s friends. Organize a summer barbecue or allow him to invite some pals on your next family hike. This will provide you with a window into your son’s peer group as well as a discreet, relaxed opportunity to chaperone his interaction with friends. While there’s certainly a place for family-only activities, there’s no reason why you can’t devise additional outings of a more inclusive nature.
Q: I have a huge concern about the music my teenager and his friends are listening to. I know when I was a teenager that the music I listened to affected my attitude and heart. How can I help my son understand that music does affect your heart and mind and that there is positive music out there to listen to?
Juli: There are a lot of parenting challenges that have changed over time, but this one has been around for several generations. Teens and their parents have never agreed on music. The stakes seem higher now than when teens were enthralled with the Beatles. The lyrics of today’s edgiest music are far more graphic and disturbing, describing violent and sexual acts in detail.
Many American teens have smartphones or iPods that can play music without disturbing Mom and Dad. That’s why parents must be proactive to stay in touch with what kind of music their kids are listening to.
To get the point across to your son, here’s what I would recommend. Print out the lyrics to the music he is listening to. Then ask him to read them out loud to you. This brings to light the impact of what he is choosing to put in his mind.
The next step really depends on your parenting philosophy and on your teen’s age. I would flat out prohibit a young teen from listening to destructive music, but give more freedom for discernment to an older teen who has started making his own choices.
If you need help finding good music and getting another perspective on what your teens are listening to, check out our Plugged In website at www.pluggedin.com.
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the Focus on the Family radio program, and a husband and father of two. Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three. Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com
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