The Family Project: Emotionally-aloof daughter, 17, deemed normal
Q. My 17-year-old daughter has become so difficult to deal with this past year. She is a senior in high school and is all set to begin college this fall. Whenever I suggest that we do something as a family, she rolls her eyes and says it is “stupid.” Yet, she seems happy, especially when she is with her friends. What is going on?
“Adolescence” was panelist Mike Daniels’ immediate response. “That is what is going on and it is pretty normal,” he said.
“Before kids go away to college, they feel they have to shake the tree so hard that their parents will be happy to see them go,” panelist Denise Continenza said.
“In their mind, they want to make it easy for their parents. In this way, the teens can rationalize that the next step of leaving is OK,” said Continenza.
“I’d change the wording of the question,” panelist Mike Ramsey said. He suggested instead, “‘I’m having a hard time understanding my 17-year-old daughter.’”
The real issue is not a “difficult daughter,” Ramsey said, “it is that the way parents connect with their teens is different.”
“The shift is from parents having control to having influence,” panelist Erin Stalsitz said. “Parents need to be careful not to cause a separation between themselves and their teens.
“The job of adolescence is to define individuality, and the 17-year-old is trying to trying to determine who she is, and how to take charge of her life as she approaches adulthood,” said Stalsitz.
Daniels urged the mother to avoid challenging the daughter, and said, “Don’t come back at her. Instead, acknowledge that she is changing, and what she considers important is shifting from what the family is doing to adulthood.”
“Many parents have the expectation that their teens will act as adults, but, in reality, they are stuck in both worlds,” Ramsey said, adding, “That’s hard stuff.”
Panelist Charise Edwards summed up the discussion by observing that the parents are having a hard time dealing with the fact that the daughter will be leaving home in the fall.
Edwards stressed the importance of shoring up the relationship with the daughter before she leaves. “Spend more one-on-one time with the daughter. Take her out and talk to her about things she is interested in, such as graduation and college,” said Edwards.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Denise Continenza, extension educator; Mike Ramsey, program supervisor, Valley Youth House; Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh Children & Youth; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, and Charise Edwards, Functional Family Therapist, Valley Youth House.
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The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.
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