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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Parenting

Absent from family functions

Posted: 12 Jan 2014 10:45 PM PST

What should we do when our teenager is never available to take part in family activities because he's spending all of his time with friends?

A good portion of your teen's behaviour is part of a normal developmental process called "separation and individuation." 

Between the ages of six and 12, a child's need to identify with his peer group starts to take precedence over his sense of identification with parents and family. This continues through the teen years and usually concludes with complete separation and independence by age 18 or 20. 

To resist this natural pulling away only interferes with growth and creates unnecessary tension in the household. You can help make your son's transition from childhood to adulthood smoother if you keep the following suggestions in mind. 

First, as difficult as this sounds, you need to take an honest look at your own motives. Is it possible that you have selfish motives for wanting your child to stay close to you? Do you have a hidden emotional need that you're expecting him to fulfill? Are you afraid of letting go and seeing him make mistakes on his own?

If so, you need to realise that these are your problems, not his. Once you've settled these questions, you need to find a way to embrace and affirm the shift that's occurring in your teen's outlook. In other words, allow for separation while also helping him realise that he's wanted at home, too. 

It's better to bend with the winds of change than snap under their pressure. Since his peers are so important to him, you should do what you can to encourage him to develop a positive social life and form healthy friendships. You can't actually pick his friends for him, of course, but you can increase his chances of making good choices by shaping his environment. 

Help him get involved with a solid, interesting church youth group. Urge him to take part in school camps or sports. Another way to exert a measure of positive influence is to host activities for your son's friends. For instance, you could throw an after-exam party or organise a barbecue. This will provide you with a window into your teen's peer group as well as a discreet and relaxed opportunity to chaperone his interaction with friends.

You might also encourage him to invite friends to take part in family events. While there's certainly a place for "family-only" activities, there's no reason why you can't plan additional outings of a more inclusive nature. If you go on a vacation, let him bring a couple of buddies along. He'll be less resistant to family outings if you design them to be more attractive from his point of view.

This article was published with permission from Focus on the Family Malaysia. For more information, go to


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