Teenagers need Love AND Space

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There is an analogy[1] that young children are a bit like a beloved dog: loyal, affectionate and eager to please. Teenagers, on the other hand are a bit more like cats: independent, sometimes aloof, and demanding of attention on their own timing and terms.

But looks can be deceiving. If you’ve ever been a cat-owner, you know that cats need love and attention too. They need food, shelter and a warm lap they can count on when times are cold or things go wrong. In the adolescent years, it can be helpful to remember that similar needs exists. Teens need our love, attention and interest, and they need to know we have their backs. In other words, that their parents and other important adults are there for them when they come to us.

As a parent, the journey of living with an adolescent can be many things. It can be scary to watch them make decisions on their own without always fully appreciating the risks involved. It can be painful if their bid for independence and autonomy feel like a rejection of us.  It can be exciting to watch them learn from mistakes and do better another time. It can be gratifying to see them wrestle with values and explore ideas of how to be in the world.

By the time our children reach the teenage years, we (and they) have often negotiated a new relationship that has evolved far beyond the cat/dog analogy. When our children were little, they needed us to always be emotionally and physically present and available[2] to them. As they get older, some teens may need more physical space —but they continue to need our emotional availability and presence. True, it can feel like it’s on their terms, when they need it. Just like a cat. A temporary cat.  

This is one of four key messages created by SACY (School Age Children & Youth)[3]. An initiative of the Vancouver School Board and community partners, SACY provides learning opportunities for parents in the hopes of strengthening relationships in the home and with the school. Experience has shown that youth with strong connections to family are less likely to use substances in a problematic way.

Also see:

Parents, remember to listen and breathe

Support Your Teen’s Spark

What’s fun for your teen? Let’s do that!

Read the SACY story here about the cat and dog analogy!

"As I think about my children’s high school experiences, I realize that young children are more like dogs—while teenagers behave more like cats...."

In studies examining adolescence and attachment theory, findings show a positive connection between parent attachment and adolescents’ life satisfaction. 

Although adolescents may spend less time with their parents, parents continue to influence their well-being and play a critical role in building character.

Visit the SACY site for more information and inspiration to build connections between parents and youth.

  • Secure and Calm

    Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety. To be secure and calm also means being able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties.
  • Gets Along with Others

    Getting along with others is the ability to form positive and healthy relationships with peers and adults. Children with better abilities to regulate their emotions and behaviours have more friends and experience more positive playtime with their peers.
  • Alert and Engaged

    Being alert and engaged is the ability to manage and direct one's own feelings, thoughts and emotions. In general, the ability to be 'present' and to exercise self-control.
  • Compassionate and Kind

    Being compassionate and kind is closely related to empathy. While empathy refers more generally to the ability to take the perspective of and to feel the emotions of another person, compassion goes one step further.
  • Solves Problems Peacefully

    Managing conflict effectively is about creating an atmosphere where violence and aggression are not likely. To resolve conflict means using empathy, problem-solving skills, understanding other points of view and coming up with ways to make things right in a fair way.