Withdrawn Teenagers and Preoccupied Parents

I had a session with a sixteen year old boy today. He was a pretty typical teenager. He was slumped in the chair and yawning on a Monday morning. He’d had little sleep on Saturday due to a party and sleep over at a mate’s place and copious time spent online taking up most of Sunday afternoon and evening.

 His main focus during the beginning of the session was his need for more freedom and his mother’s need for knowing where he is and what he is doing all the times. He said about his Mum, “sorry, but she’s a control freak and she doesn’t trust me”. This was in contrast to the referral I had received via a worry filled email from his mother listing her concerns about her son, whom she described as cranky, withdrawn, disinterested and underachieving.

These to me are signs of a classic mother/son struggle, which tends to evolve during the mid-teen years. Rightly so, parents want their sons and daughters to achieve to their full potential at school so they have a rewarding future ahead of them. To this end a caring parent can become preoccupied with keeping their son/daughter on the straight and narrow. They can be preoccupied with assignment deadlines, test revision, subject grades and teachers’ comments. Added to this, Mums and Dads can feel the need to monitor their teenager’s friends who may be bad influences, parties that may be unsupervised and exposure to online games and social media. All this is to be admired. Wanting to know about these things and wanting to support your child to make good decisions concerning their school and social life is to be commended. But it is so important to do these things by subtle and shrewd means rather than in overt and potentially embarrassing ways. If too obvious, parents can become “control freaks” or “annoying nags” that young people all too often withdraw from and react in opposition to.

Teenagers are finding their feet as independent people. They are trying to discover who am I in my own skin? What am I to others? How can I be me and still honour my parents as well as my close friends? This is a very difficult juggling act. Added to these identity forming issues, some young people are facing the facts about life after school. They are suddenly grasping the reality of the need to work hard to get what they want. They no longer can leave things to the last minute and get good grades. It becomes all too obvious that, to do their personal best, they will have to put in the hard yards. For some this is such a stress inducing prospect they simply give up before they even begin to ‘pull their socks up’. Indeed, the young man I counselled this morning said to me, “I’m too young to be worried about the future. I just do what I need to do when a test is on tomorrow or when an assignment is due in two days.” Even whilst saying this I could see the doubt in his eyes. He was trying to convince himself that it was okay to live from day to day and not set achievement goals for himself or use a study time table … I think the best way to get young people into an academically motivated frame of mind is to help them explore possible career avenues. Once they get an idea of what type of work they desire, what level of achievement is required to get where they want to go, and what personal attributes employers are looking for, they do seem to take up a more determined and self-directed approach. 

© Dr Lee-Ann Prideaux 2013