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how to strengthen your changing relationship with a young person

12 Nov 2018
Parenting or mentoring a young person as they get older can be tough. Here are some tips on how to build resilience into your relationship.

As a young person progresses towards adulthood, your relationship with them will go through a lot of changes. Sometimes they’ll need you like they did when they were younger. At other times, they’ll need you to be there in different ways. And sometimes they’ll seem to pull away from their family altogether.

This is a natural part of young people working out who they are. Hold steady – you’ll always be there for them as their parent. Here are some helpful things to keep in mind as you both navigate these shifts.

Remember that they’re trying to figure out who they are

One of a young person’s tasks is to become an independent person. That might mean that they start to prioritise relationships with friends over relationships with family.

These changes often build up over time, but they can seem sudden and dramatic when you notice them. It can feel like such a radical change from how things have been that it can be really scary.

You might find that you’re no longer in control of a whole range of things, like what you do and don’t know about your child’s life. Relax – this is an important part of the process of a young person becoming who they’re going to be.

View mistakes as opportunities

This can be a tricky time, and both you and your child will make mistakes. It’s useful to view these as a normal and learning opportunities for both for you.

Sometimes the fear of conflict can stop us dealing with serious issues. It’s often better to work challenges out in the open and work towards repairing the relationship. Through these experiences, young people will learn how to navigate other relationships they have now and in the future.

Negotiate boundaries

With all these changes, you might be afraid you’re losing control of your relationship. A common and very understandable response is to double down and be stricter with rules. But this can feel stifling for the young person, tiring for you, and probably won’t create the results you want.

Although it’s reasonable to have expectations, it’s a good idea to listen to what your child thinks and consciously shift things together over time.

For instance, with a twelve or thirteen-year-old, you’ll probably still be setting most of the boundaries and they’ll just be beginning to have a say. Gradually, more and more areas will be up for negotiation. By the time a young person is in their early twenties, you’ll be making agreements with another adult, even if they’re living under your roof.

Remember, you have a lot more life experience than they do, so it’s up to you to be proactive and lead these conversations. It can also help to pay attention to your own feelings so you can discern whether you’re making conscious choices or reacting out of fear.

Be compassionate

Remember that the young person you care about is probably dealing with new and scary things, like:

  • big hormonal changes that they’re still learning to manage

  • pressure from their social environment

  • dating and sexuality

  • school, work and education

  • a growing awareness of wider issues in society, the economy and the environment, and wondering about how they’ll fit into that future.

As a parent, one of the most valuable things you can offer is compassion. Acknowledging the challenges that the young person is trying to manage will build your relationship and make it easier for them to take in what you have to say. Putting things in context can also make it easier for you to deal with your own emotions and see things clearly.

There will be moments that don’t go very well, and these can make everyone feel terrible. We all have boundaries on how we can behave and it’s important to tell a young person when something they’re doing isn’t okay. But it’s always better to do this from a place understanding.

Consider seeking support

If you’re worried about your child’s mental health, it’s a good idea to seek support from people who are experts at helping young people through hard times. Get in touch with your local headspace centre today.