A Normal Teenager?

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Many parents contact me in order to arrange psychotherapy for their adolescent/teenager. I generally complete my first session with both the teen and parent(s) present. This first session reveals a lot of information to me (what the teen sees as the “problem” vs. what the parent sees as the “problem,” relationship dynamics, etc.) but the most striking hidden question I often hear parents asking is, “Is my teenager normal!?!?”

Often times there is an urgency and fear that I hear in the parents’ voice(s). Teenagers are so… foreign. Unpredictable. Different.

When I hear the urgency and fear coming from parents, I talk with the parents alone. Then the questions fly: “Is my kid going to end up in counseling forever?! What do I do about _______ behavior?! She wants to dye her hair PURPLE! How do I deal with him? She’s sooo rebellious! He won’t even talk to me anymore!”

I do not believe there is a “normal” teenager. Teens are on their own, unique journey. Raising a teenager is about balance. They are starting to break away from parents a bit. Parents are learning to let go. Teens use their own voice. Parents learn when not to use theirs. Teens make mistakes that parents could likely have prevented. Parents don’t say, “I told you so.” Instead, parents guide in the learning process or shut up. Teens have problems with friends and partners. Parents walk alongside their teen on their journey. When teens make choices that go against familial beliefs, parents hold their teen accountable with the message being, “I love you and that is why I am holding you accountable.” Again, parenting a teenager is about balance and a clear message.

Now… the purple hair. Do you fight him/her on it (which will make your teen fight more) or let them dye their hair? I don’t have a canned answer that will fit for all teens. The best thing I can say is: pick your battles. There will be more to come!

What strategies have you seen or used to keep balance in your relationship with a teen?

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