Your teens need adults, supportive people, natural mentors. When they don’t want to talk to you, it’s nice to know there’s someone out they they will talk to and who you can trust.
“It takes a village to raise a child.” This wise saying has lasted generations. It is thought to have originated in Africa where the society was much more communal than we are used to in our modern American society. I know only one of my neighbors. Many people in America know none of their neighbors. While there are numerous pros and cons to communal vs individualistic societies, I want to focus on the affect it has on our teens.
Adolescence is a season of life when the ability to get away from family and talk to other safe adults is especially helpful. As the adolescent tries to stretch his/her wings and develop their sense of autonomy, the home life can feel crowded. Parental relationships are strained as the teen aches to think for himself, decide for himself, limit himself rather than have someone else limit him (don’t we all!), and even provide for himself.
When the teen’s struggle involves mom and dad, it is helpful to have a wise Ms. Jones down the street who they feel comfortable going to. It can be easier to talk to someone else’s parents than it is your own. Ms. Jones makes the teenager a coffee, cuts her a piece of apple pie, and sits down at the kitchen table across from her and hears her woes. After listening and empathizing, Ms. Jones offers some good advice. The advice is received by the teen much better than if mom or dad said it because Ms. Jones doesn’t threaten the young lady’s autonomy like mom and dad do.
And on Ms. Jones’s part, it is much easier to remain unemotionally reactive to the young lady because it’s not her daughter. Now, Ms. Jones may be a loose cannon when it is her own teenager that is misbehaving, but for the family down the street, she is calm, detached from the problem, and therefore she is emotionally safer than the youngster’s mom and dad. Because the teen feels safe and the teen feels heard, she is likely to use Ms. Jones again sometime when she’s struggling in the future. But for now she’s feeling better and ready to go home and fix things with mom and dad.
It’s not just connection with our neighbors we have lost. Families have less involvement with most traditional sources. Fewer families go to church and when they do go, they often only attend a big Sunday service with little to no connection. There is less involvement with grandparents and other extended family than there used to be. Some studies show teens who have a close relationship with their grandparents tend to have less trouble in those adolescent years.
One of the easiest ways to help your teen is to get the village back! When you enlist the help of others, you are actually taking some of the pressure off of yourself. Breathe a sigh of relief knowing that your teen has a team of supports and it all isn’t on your shoulders. Do all you can do to foster connection between your teen and other healthy adults. And do not get jealous when your teen has close relationships with someone else’s parents. She still knows who her parents are, and her relationship with other healthy adults is more likely to save her relationship with you rather than threaten it.