Telling the Start of Adolescence by How Parents Can Change

Source: Carl Pickhardt Ph.D.

In an earlier blog (5/27/17)  I listed about 25 child changes that can mark the onset of adolescence, ways that parents can sometimes find unwelcome.

What follows is the other side of the coin: how parents can change in response, in about 25 ways the adolescent can find harder to live with. These changes can mark the entry into adolescence from the young person’s point of view.     

Years ago this mutuality of adolescent change was brought home to me when I asked a 13-year-old how he knew adolescence had begun. His instantaneous response brought me up short: “Because of how my parents have changed!” Asked for more information, he immediately replied how they used to be fun-loving, carefree, and relaxed when he was a child, but now they were more serious, worried, and tense. Got me thinking, his response did, because he wasn’t lying.

The young man altered my view of adolescence. From then on I have tried to remember that adolescence is not a simply about how a child changes on the way to young adulthood. It is also about how the parent changes in response, and how the parent/adolescent relationship alters as well.

So what follows, in no particular order, is a non-exhaustive list of about 25 parent changes that can mark a child’s entry into adolescence.

Parents can become more Irritable: “Will you stop acting that way!”

Parents can become more Critical: “As you grow older, we say what’s wrong so you can learn what’s right!”

Parents can become more Nagging: “We’ll keep after you until you get it done!”

Parents can become more Bossy: “Because we make the rules, that’s why!”

Parents can become more Suspicious: “Tell us why we should believe that’s the truth!”

Parents can become more Impatient: “When we ask for ‘now’ we don’t mean ‘later’!”

Parents can become more Worried: “Someone has to think about the risks out there!”

Parents can become more Sad: “We miss all the all good times we used to have together!”

Parents can become more Resentful: “The only person you think about is yourself!”

Parents can become more Questioning: “We ask a lot because there’s more we need to know!”

Parents can become more Tense: “We can get wound up waiting to see you safely home!”

Parents can become more Serious: “Where you see fun we see possibility for harm!”

Parents can become more Correcting: “We give consequences so you don’t repeat misbehavior.”

Parents can become more Watchful: “We have to pay more attention now that you’re growing up.”

Parents can become more Un-forgiving: “Apologies are no substitute for changing how you act.”

Parents can become more Uncommunicative: “We talk less because when we do talk we mostly disagree!”

Parents can become more Unreceptive: “We listen less because we already know what you’re going to say!”

Parents can become more Emotional: “We get more easily frustrated because it’s harder to get your cooperation!”

Parents can become more Strict: “We limit freedom so we don’t allow more than you can handle.”

Parents can become more Protective: “We say ‘no’ to keep you from getting hurt!”

Parents can become more Distant: “We may be harder to talk to because there is less you want to say!”  

Parents can become more Ignorant: “You world is not like the one we grew up in!”

Parents can become more Argumentative: “We only argue more because you argue more with us!”

Parent can become more Unfair: “We expect more of you than the other kids because you’re older!”

Parents can become more Embarrassing: “The more you change, the more uncomfortably different we become for you.”

Parents can become more Complaining: “Alert for problems, we can forget to praise.”

Parents can become more Superior: “From longer experience we know more about life than you!”

Parents can become more Demanding: “Our job is to keep piling on responsibility to build your independence.”  

If you notice about half these changes in yourselves as parents, you can probably assume from your reactions that your daughter or son’s adolescent passage has begun. 

In general, it’s best not to make a hard adjustment worse by taking your adolescent’s changes personally, blaming the young person for deliberately offending you. In reality, adolescence is such a self-absorbing process that there can be diminished attention available for sensitivity to others, like parents. While your daughter or son may now act more more unmindfully; it is unlikely that she or he is deliberately investing attention in parents to get them upset. So: inconsiderate, yes; but calculating, probably not.

Thus, when you would like more consideration shown, be sure to operationally explain what specific actions you need, and then follow through with supervision to pursue your request — like keeping after the more disorderly young person to pick up after themselves. After all, one responsibility of parents is to socialize the teenager into a young person who feels nice for them to live with most of the time. 

In summary, I think it’s useful to remember this list of possibly unwelcome parental behaviors so you don’t treat the changing relationship as all one-sided, where the burden of adjustment falls mostly on the adults. It does not. It is shared.

When you are having a hard time getting used to your adolescent’s changes, she or he may be having an equally hard time getting used to yours.

For more information about parenting adolescents, see my book, “SURVIVING YOUR CHILD’S ADOLESCENCE” (Wiley, 2013.) Information at:

Next week’s entry: After Adolescence, Managing Young Adult Stress


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