Ask A Therapist: Transitioning Into Teen Years

Question: I feel like my 10-year-old is already acting like a teenager and I’m not ready for that phase yet! She is moody, only wants to be on her phone, and shuts down when I try to talk to her about it. Do you have any tips for parents to make the transition into teen years as smooth as possible? 

Check in with your emotions

Watching childhood come to an end is hard and your feelings about it are natural. Many parents and caregivers approach adolescence and teenagehood with apprehension, resistance and fear. When this happens, our children sense there is something to fear about the world and about themselves. As your child starts to push the boundaries of childhood, try to accept this as a natural process. Try to avoid leading with your emotions, and instead lead with curiosity and openness. 

Listen and be curious.

As your child moves into adolescence, you may find they are closed off or shut down when you try to talk to them. This may sting as you remember the little one who once saw you as their whole world, but it is a normal stage of development as they are learning to form their own identity, separate from you. Remember that the more you talk, the less they talk. When they do open up, remember this acronym: WAIT - Why Am I Talking? Unless they ask you for advice or a specific question, be quiet and listen. When they are able to engage in a conversation, use curious and nonjudgmental language such as: 

  • “I wonder what that’s like for you.”
  • “What does that mean for you?”
  •  “I understand where you’re coming from. Can you tell me more about that?”

Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations.

It is normal to feel afraid to talk about the hard hitters - sex, drugs, relationships, feelings, to name a few - but to avoid doing so does a major disservice to kids. If kids sense these topics are not okay to talk about with you, they will either not learn necessary information, or they will seek it out from unreliable sources, such as the internet or their friends. The good news is that you don’t have to do this alone. Talk to your pediatrician, a therapist, your child’s teachers, family and friends. Use online resources, read books, or watch videos -- anything it takes to put the conversation out into the open.

Trust their wisdom.

When kids feel trusted by their adult, they learn to trust themselves. Adults often feel like it is their job to bestow wisdom upon children and in many ways, it is our job to provide education and teach them how to be good human beings. Still, it's important to remember how much kids know. Our job is to teach them what we know and then help them build their own sense of knowing. Kids develop confidence, security and empowerment when adults trust them.

Embrace the journey.

The transition from childhood into teenagehood will certainly have its challenges, but it doesn’t have to be as bad as its reputation. There will be growing pains, hormones, body changes, heartbreak, an increased desire for autonomy and probably some defiance. But there will also be excitement, curiosity, passion, fun and humor. Teens care a LOT and the perspective of a teenager in today's world is refreshing and hopeful. Embracing the energy of adolescence and teenagehood can make the transition feel less like they are rattling your world and more like you are witnessing the creation of theirs. 

Bottom line.

Your child will make mistakes and get hurt. This is a vital part of development. The single most important thing is that they have a safe, trusted adult to come to when it happens. Through your openness, acceptance, curiosity, and patience, your child will know they can come to you when they mess up or need help. 

This Ask a Therapist column was written by Caley Braun. Caley is eagerly going into her third year as a School-Based Therapist with Community Reach Center. Through her work in elementary schools, Caley is dedicated to helping children and families heal, grow and connect.