What to Do When Your Teen Pulls Away

Boundaries with TeensBy Dr. John Townsend

Some parents fear that if they set boundaries with teens, it will cause their son or daughter to detach themselves and withdraw their love from them. This fear can cause these parents to avoid boundaries at all costs, and to do their best to keep their kid connected.

When this happens, it teaches teens that they can get their way and avoid limits by cutting off the love supply. These adolescents often have difficulty experiencing healthy adult relationships, because they have learned to withdraw love, as a form of emotional blackmail, until the other person caves in. You don't want this relational future for your teen.

If you are vulnerable to fear, you may have some sort of dependency on your teen's goodwill and feelings toward you. You may be trying to get your teen to meet your need for love and connection. If so, you are in jeopardy of not doing right by your child.

To resolve your fear of withdrawal of love, connect with other adults who will support, affirm, and encourage you. Such adults can meet your relational needs. Use their good feelings to fill the vacuum so that when your teen withdraws because of some limits you have imposed, you can tolerate the withdrawal.

When your teen withdraws, take the initiative to go after him and try to reconnect. Teens sometimes don't have the skills to pull themselves back into relationship, so they need their parents to help them. But while you are inviting your teen back into connection with you, keep your requirements and expectations intact. Your teen still needs them.

Remember that teens need a certain amount of time and space to pull away from parents — not totally away, but enough to form their own opinions, identity, and values. When you experience this withdrawal, realize it's a normal part of your teen's developmental passage. Don't personalize it. Instead, help your teen know that it's a good thing for him and that you'll be there when he or she wants to reconnect.


Learn more ways to help your teen grow into a mature, responsible adult by reading Boundaries with Teens. Click here to learn more.

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