Finding the right balance

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Ellie Lathrop, MSW, RSW

As in many things in life, striking the right balance is an ongoing process. As a parent of two teenagers, right now my kids are 13 and 17, I know this all too well. This is also something that comes up often in my work with teenagers and parents. As a social worker on a hospital psychiatry team I regularly see teens and parents who are in conflict with one another. Very often, when we sit down together, both parents and the teen express feeling disconnected from each other. Asked about their hopes for therapy and I will often hear a wish for better communication and more respect, from everyone in the family. But as a parent it is often difficult to know what to do in any particular moment. Should I leave her alone in her room or go and talk to her? Do we let him stay home or insist he goes to school?

Adolescence is all about autonomy, finding out who you are and in many cases that means challenging parental authority or experimentation. As a parent you want to maintain a good relationship with your teen, but how can you get close when they keep pushing away. A common phrase from my 13 year old right now is “leave me alone!”. As a parent there is a sense of loss when your kids don’t run to greet you at the door any more, let alone want to spend time with you. They still need you but only seem to want to talk to you when that need is financial.

Keeping the lines of communication open and finding a balance between supporting your teen’s independence and making sure they are safe is a lot of work. I will often say to parents that during adolescence the only leverage you have with your teenager is your relationship, so that is worth investing in. You want to be someone who they will come to for advice. Knowing what you need from one another and how you can feel like you are on the same side, is a process, but it is worth the effort.

I’m just joining the Counselling for Toronto Teens Centre and really looking forward to working along with Jessica and Matthew. I know we will be working together on the ongoing practice of striving for balance. Hope to speak with you soon, Ellie