Spring is finally here in many parts of the world. It is a season of new growth, new possibilities, fresh hopes, and, for many species: a mating season! Nature comes alive with the sounds of mating calls, puffed-up chests, colourful plumage meant to attract a mate, hormones and pheromones floating in the air, and battles amongst males for the attentions of the female. In many ways, it is very similar to what might be observed in high school hallways!
What an incredible transition of seasons in a human life – to witness our adolescent shift into that place where their feelings begin to take on new depths and intensities of attractions, romances, and the many colours of love. It can lead to a very preoccupied child who struggles to think of anything else inside the potency of their experience! And of course, nothing is ever quite the same anymore. The world has burst open in all new ways, and naturally so.
What does this transition mean in terms of our place as parent? What changes in the parent-child relationship and what needs to remain the same? Parents can sometimes find this to be an awkward transition of having to now consider their adolescent child as a growing and maturing sexual being! Along come the negotiations around best age to allow dating, group activities versus alone time, how much alone time is appropriate for a young dating couple, how involved should the dating couple be, how involved should the adult be inside the young relationship? There are many new details to navigate, and each family will be different in terms of their culture, beliefs, philosophies, and customs around this newly emerging place in a young life.
While certain aspects of the parent-child relationship are necessarily evolving, certain aspects need to remain the same. First and foremost, our adolescent child still needs us to be active, involved, and interested in their lives. Sometimes parents will begin to back away from closeness because of the awkwardness that can be part of this relationship transition. In the face of all things changing, it becomes important to remember that our child needs a strong sense of us as an anchoring presence more than ever.
The simple act of listening without reaction or judgement will be extremely important to allow the channels of communication to remain open. Let them tell you about their ups-and-downs, crushes, worries, fears, jealousies, and hurt feelings without it leading to strong parental reaction or opinion. Sometimes our child will discuss something that reveals troubled waters from our adult perspective: perhaps concerns over a controlling relationship dynamic or worries over what we see as an inevitable heartbreak. It is so important to listen and weigh our advice carefully, if offered at all, lest our child stop talking due to fear of lecture, disapproval, or reaction. When they stop feeling they can safely share what is in their heart and mind, we risk losing our influence in their lives.
Finally, embrace this new season unfolding within your growing child. Take delight in their experience in a way that normalizes it, celebrates it, invites it, and welcomes it. Similar to our spring flowers, these budding feelings of attraction, romance, and love are very new, tender and vulnerable… our young are just learning how to deal with these emotional experiences. Our loving presence, listening space and warm involvement, even in the face of all that is changing, will help our growing children continue to take root in strong and healthy ways.