The following post, part of the AP Month 2009 Blog Carnival, is from API Co-Founder and author of Attached at the Heart, Barbara Nicholson.
Attachment Through the Teen Years
What does Attachment Parenting look like during the teen years? Is it all smooth sailing because we did our job in early childhood, carrying our babies in slings, giving them lots of love and attention, learning about positive discipline and empathic listening? Perhaps if we could raise our children in a vacuum, with no contact with the tsunami called American culture, we might have a chance!
All families will have their challenges, whether it’s the bully on the playground, the incessant marketing that bombards us every day through TV, billboards, radio, and other media, or even the economic pressures that many families are under. Drugs and alcohol will always be a part of our teens’ exposure, no matter how we raise our children, not to mention the angst of first time relationships and raging hormones!
So here is the good news: you are way ahead when you have developed a strong trusting relationship with your children. All the things that we do with our little ones apply strongly to the teen years: keeping the lines of communication open, being a good listener, and staying firm on our boundaries.
Instead of running out in the street, your new challenge is handing the keys over to the family car! Instead of having play dates with trusted family friends, your child is going places and meeting new friends and families that are completely unknown to you. All the more reason to make family connection a priority, whether it’s keeping family dinner time sacred or perhaps making Sunday a special day for family and friends.
When our children are babies and toddlers, we’re more inclined to attend parent support groups and get together socially with families who have children the same age. However, when we hit the pre-teen and teen years, we get so busy with the myriad activities of school, church, or work events that a support group is no longer on our radar – or perhaps we have kept our friends from those early years and don’t see a reason to add one more structured activity to our crazy schedules! However, it’s more critical than ever to be connected to your children’s peers and their families. Here’s an example from my family:
When one of my sons was in high school I was invited to attend a support group for parents that met once a week in the school library. I decided to attend, since I realized I didn’t know many of my son’s friend’s parents at the school and thought this would be a good opportunity to meet them. Unfortunately the meeting was not well attended…perhaps 10 parents were there from a high school of about 900 students! But what I learned there was critical to my son’s high school experience.
The support group leader led us through a parenting curriculum geared toward keeping our attachments strong and empowering us to be just as proactive as we were when our children were younger. She encouraged us to call the parents of our children’s friends, keep the lines of communication open with them, and make sure everyone is on the same page about alcohol, parties, drugs, etc. It was just the encouragement I needed to do exactly what she suggested!
My son had recently attended a party, and even though the parents were home, the party was in a guest house, relatively unsupervised! When I called about my concerns we agreed to have a meeting with the core group of teens who attended the party and their parents. The purpose was to set some guidelines for future parties, the parents agreeing to not allow the use of the guest house, that the parents would be home, and that there would be no alcohol or drugs on the premises. It felt so good for us to all meet, have some coffee, and get to know each other.
All parents deeply love their children, but many of them have never been empowered to demonstrate that boundaries come from a place of protection and love, not punishment and distrust. As an adult, my son has shared with me that he was relieved that we had that meeting. He could see that his peer group was much stronger than the parents, until we united to take back our power!
It reminds me of a story I read in TIME magazine about a band of wild young elephants who were rampaging in a reserve in Africa. The keepers realized that they had made a huge mistake by removing the young elephants from the older group. Without guidance from their elders, they were like gang members on a spree! All it took was putting the group back together and the wild ones were soon calm again.