Who’s In Your Teen’s Village?
by Martha Chan, LMFT
Site Director at Terman Middle School
By now the saying that “It takes a village to raise a child” has entered our language, but what does it mean for the parents of teenagers? When our children enter adolescence, one of their primary developmental tasks is to branch out beyond the immediate family for role models and sources of support. By the time that our children reach secondary school, many of them have already connected with other adults; these may be members of the extended family, teachers, neighbors, coaches, friends’ parents, or youth leaders in their spiritual community. At the same time, one of our primary tasks as parents is to allow, even encourage, these connections as part of our own changing role in our children’s lives. Difficult as it may be, we need to be engaged in giving back to our children control over various parts of their lives, in preparation for their moving out into the world eventually.
This can be a challenge for parents who are accustomed to being the primary authority, and/or the main confidant, in their child’s life. You may miss hearing all about their school day, friends, thoughts and dreams over an after-school snack, during dinner or at bedtime. At the same time, it can be a bit nerve-wracking to provide choices to your child in areas where you’re not confident that they have enough information or judgment to make good decisions. This is where the village can play a part in your child’s life, and can help to decrease your own worries. You may find it helpful to give some thought to the question of who is in your teen’s “village”:
- Are there adults who are quoted to you as an authority by your child?
- Have you noticed your child wanting to spend more time with a particular family, and talking about the parents as well as the children in the family?
- Does your child seem to respond positively to a teacher or coach who holds him or her to high standards?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, or found yourself thinking about similar examples that you see in your child, what next? Hopefully, it will be reassuring for you to know that there are other adults connected with your child, helping to guide him or her through the teen years. It’s helpful if you can become comfortable with the idea that your child sees someone else as more knowledgeable than you, at least in some areas. At the same time, it’s important that you remain engaged with your child, not contradicting or undermining the other adult, but offering your perspective and remaining clear about the rules and expectations within you family. Most teens understand that we live in a diverse community, and that families may differ considerably from each other. When they feel they have been listened to while presenting an alternative viewpoint, teens can usually accept a parental statement that “In this family we do things this way.”
I believe it was Mark Twain who observed that children believe that parents know everything when they are young, we become clueless when they are teenagers, and then we become wise again when they are somewhere in their 20’s. When you have given your children a good foundation, combining love and clear boundaries when they are younger, they may present a challenge for you during their teen years, but they will come back around eventually, and will appreciate how wise you have become in the meantime.