Why teenagers suddenly can’t stand their parents

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It’s jarring and not a little bit traumatic when your child decides you are the absolute worst. For years you’ve been the centre of their universe, and couldn’t even use the toilet in peace, and then suddenly, your teen suddenly becomes allergic to you.

Usually this ‘allergy’ will set in at around age 13. Sometimes you might see it intermittently, for an hour or a day at a time, and sometimes it sets in suddenly and lasts for years.

It’s no fun to be the parent who can do no right and who is SO EMBARRASSING, but if it’s happening to you, take comfort in knowing it’s not your fault – it’s just a natural stage of life.

And you don’t need to do anything except just ride it out.

The process of growing up means we need to learn how to be separate from our parents. This often starts where your child feels most comfortable and safe – in your home. They will suddenly feel a powerful urge to distinguish themselves from you. That’s not easy since they’ve spent pretty much all of their lives not only living with you but also learning how to live from you.

Teenagers going through this process will start to analyse their parents’ behaviours and choices and sort them into two categories: those they accept and those they reject. And in the spirit of becoming someone quite different from you, there will be a fair bit of rejection.

What could usually be a simple difference of opinion about, say, the music you choose to listen to becomes about so much more than that. Your child feels the need to share how much they despise your choices and what terrible choices they are. And it can become quite personal.

Why does it matter to your teen what radio station you listen to in the car when you’re driving alone? Because your child is making a statement about their identity – and until that fledgling identity has been well established, the closest thing is to loudly acknowledge what things they most certainly do not align themselves with.

Even passions you have in common – like playing tennis, for example – will become a source of awkwardness. Your child may not give them up entirely just because it’s something they’ve always done with you. But they may reject your involvement and seek out friends to play with instead. Sure, you could both be free on Saturday mornings and keen for a game, but your child can’t feel independent of you if you’re still locked in for a weekly hit together.

Basically, you can become persona non grata in your own home, which can be hurtful if you take it personally. (And teenagers sometimes have a way of expressing themselves which can make anything sound personal.)

But it doesn’t have to be all doom, gloom and household friction if you go into this phase with your eyes and your mind open. It can help to understand this is a natural marker of development and something that is necessary for your child in order to grow into an independent adult. Sure, we have to hop down off those pedestals our children have had us on since they were babies, but it’s an opportunity to form a new relationship – one where our teens can get to know the real us, not just the superhero version.

If they’re walking a fine line when it comes to manners – or even crossing it with great strides – it can help to remind your teen that they’re free to disagree and to be annoyed, but it’s not okay to be rude or disrespectful. This is a skill they need to practise at home in order to be good at it in the outside world.

But even if you go into this phase understanding the importance of your teen extricating themselves from your shadow, the process will still hurt. It can help to have your own interests and friends – especially if they have teens as well, so you can compare battle wounds and reassure each other that everything is as normal as it can be. And if you have a partner you’re parenting with, don’t forget to give each other compliments and reassure each other that your fashion choices and jokes are second-to-none.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel: once teens go through this process and establish their own personality, their parental allergy will usually clear up. They will develop the ability to sort our character traits into categories that they couldn’t before. They can dislike our taste in music but understand that it has nothing to do with them, and it doesn’t make us a terrible human.

And even better, our teens will develop the ability to share interests with us again.

The allergy will sometimes rear its ugly head again, but generally only in short bursts or moments of extreme potential embarrassment. Eventually, you’ll be able to sing along to your favourite tunes in the car again without it garnering a snide comment – one day, your teen may even find joy in singing along.

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