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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  1. Claudia says

    This is exactly what happened to my husband!! He told me he was afraid our daughter wouldn’t speak to us for 25 years!!! Somehow he pivoted his relational needs to her instead of maintaining it with me, his wife. It then quickly got out of control and divided our family. When I approached him about the chaos and our need to get on the same page, as my authority was being undermined, he just looked at me in fear, like he couldn’t handle it. He allowed them to disrespect me and even jumped on board. We are now divorced and two of my three kids are alienated from me. I’m appalled that my husband went this route after 30 years together!!! It’s like he became another teen. I thought he’d come to his senses after our eldest son was truant all last year and having to repeat 11th grade after loosing me, his youngest brother, the family dog, and his big sister going off to university. My now ex-husband blew our family up instead of setting those boundaries with our teens. I never saw that coming. It’s caused a wake of trauma for our family. Friends and family were shocked and I’m still struggling that I don’t have my family anymore. My kids won’t speak to me. They blame me apparently. They have no idea how they’ve been manipulated. And I worry for them and their believing it’s acceptable to treat loved ones this way, discarding without a simple discussion even.

    • Barbara Dempsey says

      Wow Claudia! Can I relate!
      Same thing happened in our family. The father of our children regressed to his teen years. Even so , that he looked up a teenage crush and started seeing her! There were no boundaries anywhere to be found. We’ve been divorced 4 years now and things have settled with my children and me. I’ve gained their respect back. My youngest out of three was affected the most. I know with Gods help things will be turned at some point. They know about their father’s untreated family disease of alcoholism. I’ve stayed in recovery the entire time. They know that I depend upon God. I don’t have to speak, but let my actions do the talking. It takes lots of tears, prayers and support to get though. But, my strength comes from a God and the path that he’s set me on. I’m still trying to maintain healthy boundaries with people in my life. I struggle with it. I need guidance and support all the time. I pray that you find your path and that your family is led to unity at some point. I’m so sorry for all of this.

      • Claudia says

        Thanks Barbara! I’m sorry you’ve experienced this awful intimate deception and the struggles it’s caused for your family too. Glad your children have come around. I’m still struggling. The financial abuse and character assassination is ongoing along with the alienation. I reach out to them weekly, but nothing. He refused through silence when I asked for couples therapy, regardless of the outcome of the impending divorce, to reconcile for our children’s future life events. Crickets. His posturing is he’s the victim. He’s rendered our marriage a counterfeit—a fraud with all the lies and deception.
        You are in my prayers and I wish you all the best too.

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