The usual sixteen and seventeen-year-old is very active. They want to text to their friends all day, go out visiting, participate in clubs and sports, work for their own money, and carry out academic tasks.
This doesn’t leave a lot of time for parents and family outings or even dinners which can be misconstrued as negativity when it’s mostly about a growing ability to be capable of organizing their own lives that they want to be recognized and need to be validated by their parents.
Independence Doesn’t Mean There Isn’t a Need for Parental Approval
While this is a time for these older teens to spread their wings, they need room to make mistakes, and trust you will help them as needed without judgment. They want you to trust they can fix mistakes, but knowing you are behind them when they are finding their way gives them the confidence to figure things out on their own.
Finding the Time to Sleep
Sometimes it will seem like all your older teen does is sleep at home. But this actually shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sometimes high stress loads make kids feel ‘wired’ and they have trouble falling asleep. Others knock off out of exhaustion.
Parents need to keep an eye on how much sleep their kids are getting because sleep deprivation not only affects performance but health. Kids with sports injuries need sleep to heal well just like they need sleep to prevent poor decision making and to make safe judgments.
Some kids at these ages are highly social and see going to parties as a way of belonging and being in the top social strata. Peer pressure for drug usage is often high, but by seventeen, you also should expect your child to have their own inner voice.
They need to be encouraged to think for themselves before they act and decide what is actually in their own individual best interest. Sixteen and seventeen-year-olds tend to respect individual choices and aren’t highly critical of those who don’t follow some drug prone party leaders.
If you have a trusting relationship, you will be able to help your teen talk about risky behaviors with you directly. When they know you aren’t judging or being critical, they’ll know your advice is out of love, not over-protection. He or she will be glad they can confide in you if they have conflicts with choices their friends make with regard to how to act at a party.
Intellectual and Moral Development
By sixteen and seventeen, your teen has abstract thinking that enables them to sort out their values and moral beliefs. They are choosing the academic path that will chart their futures for the next decade which is both stressful and an opportunity for growth and exploration.
If your relationship is positive because you haven’t misconstrued their busy, active lives as negativity toward you, they will welcome your collaboration about academic choices. Negativity even at it’s height is ironically often a desire to find their own way of taking responsibility for themselves.
If you don’t take it personally even when they are provocative, they will feel more secure rather than too powerful which is actually scary. Then they will be able to share their struggles with you. Your calm helps them find their confidence to have open teen-parent dialogue.
Sixteens and Seventeens See Different Points of View
One of the major gains of these ages is that they not only know and can express their points of view which may vary in different contexts, but they can tolerate others’ views of them. Absorbing what others think of you is difficult for most adults, so we need to respect their growing capacity in this area.
Loving Relationships are always the key to helping your teen develop in healthy, satisfying ways. Be on their side, no matter what pitfalls they fall into or successes they master.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with an upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s, Behavior, to be released Oct.13, 2015. While it covers all ages, there are several chapters on adolescents and parents solving problems together.