How to connect positively with your teen during puberty

When your teen goes through puberty, you’ll likely notice lots of physical and emotional changes happening rapidly. It can be hard to adjust to your child growing up so quickly, but your support during this time is more important than ever. You may even go through a type of grief if you feel like you’re ‘losing’ your pre-teen child and noticing shifts in your relationship with them.

With the right tools and support, you can reconnect with your child and be there as they explore their evolving identity.

Image of a dad and his daughter sitting together outside. They are both smiling.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is puberty?

  • What emotional changes will my child experience during puberty?

  • How do these changes affect my relationship with my teen?

  • How can I reconnect with my teen during puberty?

  • What can I do if I have concerns?

What is puberty?

Puberty is a period of rapid growth when a child begins to develop into an adult. During puberty, your child’s major organs and body systems mature. There will be emotional as well as physical changes, and it’s likely your teen will begin relating differently to friends and family.

Learn more about what puberty is here.

What emotional changes will my child experience during puberty?

You can help your child understand the impact of puberty by talking with them about the emotional changes they might experience along with the physical ones. These emotional changes might include:

  • a greater sense of self and an increased desire for independence

  • increased interest in sexual or romantic matters

  • changes in mood, energy and sleep patterns

  • self-consciousness about their physical appearance

  • more self-critical when comparing themselves to their peers

  • more frustration and anger

  • questioning or experimenting with their gender identity and/or sexuality.

These common emotional changes may also lead to changes in your relationship with your teen.

How do these changes affect my relationship with my teen?

As your child goes through all these physical and emotional changes, it’s unsurprising that their way of relating to others will also shift. They may be seeking greater independence from family and be more interested in hanging out with their friends, or prefer to spend time with people who share their interests, such as music or sport. You might also notice that they suddenly have an interest in romantic relationships.

These changing needs and desires can result in more arguments between parents and teens. Your teen is also forming their own opinions and identity, which are often different from yours.

While your child likely wants more freedom, they’re often not ready to give up their family’s support. As a parent or carer, all you want is to keep your child safe. It can be tricky knowing how to navigate this shifting dynamic.

How can I reconnect with my teen during puberty?

It can be painful to experience changes or rifts in your relationship with your teen. However, with some patience and effective communication, you can begin to reconnect and improve your relationship.

Accept that they’re becoming their own person

A big part of puberty lies in your teen becoming their own person, with their own views and desires. This can come as a surprise if they have tended to agree with your opinions in the past. Remember that you can’t control who they are becoming, and that it’s more helpful to be open to getting to know your teen as their own person.

Be curious about their newfound identity and opinions, and ask genuine questions and be open to learning when they express a view (especially one that you don’t agree with). This will always be more effective than telling them that your view is the ‘right’ one. When we’re told what to do, this can cause us to become defensive and can negatively affect a conversation or relationship.

Practise effective communication

Your relationship with your child will always benefit from clear and effective communication, but this is especially important when they’re going through puberty. As their need for greater independence grows, you might feel like you no longer know what’s going on in their life.

The ‘scale of 1 to 10’ method is a good way to check in with your child. By asking them how they are on a scale of 1 to 10, you can get a general sense of how they’re going. It also opens the door to asking more questions about specific issues such as school stress, friendship problems or bullying.

Find new ways of spending quality time together

As your teen matures and becomes more independent, some of the old ways you spent time together may no longer be a good fit. Quality time between parents and teens is an important part of having a functional relationship, so make sure to take some time to think of new ways of spending time together. Ask your teen about their hobbies and favourite activities, and about whether they’d be open to doing some of these together. Or, find some new hobbies that you can explore together. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Learn an art, craft or language together. Check out YouTube for free tutorials for just about anything.

  • Cook together. This can be a great way to pass on favourite recipes and keep your family’s traditions alive.

  • Get active together. Whether it’s going for bushwalks, playing a sport at the park or walking pets, this time can be a great way to connect while getting some exercise.

  • Watch a TV show, see live music, attend a theatre production or visit an art gallery together. Your teen opening up their interests to you is a big sign of trust, so try to keep an open mind and support them in the music and popular culture they like.

Maintain clear rules and boundaries

Openly discuss with your teen any rules and boundaries you want to put in place. For example, you might think it’s fine for your teen to spend more time hanging out with their friends, but that it’s not okay for them to regularly skip eating dinner at home with the family. You might communicate this by saying something like, ‘I’m happy that you want to spend time with your friends, but it’s important for us to have dinner together so our family can chat and connect.’ Be open to their thoughts on these rules and boundaries, and try to reach a middle ground where possible.

When rules or boundaries are about your teen’s safety (e.g. not staying out past 9 pm), ask something similar to: ‘Can we agree on this rule? It’s there because I want you to be safe.’ It’s also helpful to discuss the consequences of breaking these rules or crossing boundaries.

You might be concerned to see your child taking more risks or acting impulsively, but this is very common during puberty. Some risk taking is actually a good thing, as it’s part of exploring unfamiliar territory and learning new things.

What can I do if I have concerns?

If you’re finding your child’s behaviour concerning, or your teen’s safety is at risk, you might want to reach out for extra support. That could be through your GP or mental health professional, or a counselling service such as Lifeline or Parentline.

ReachOut One-on-One Support can connect you with a family professional, who can help you to figure out practical strategies that work for you and your family.

For online support from peers, jump on to the ReachOut Parents Online Community to connect with other parents and learn how they are dealing with their child going through puberty.

Remember to practise self-compassion and self-care during this time. Watching your child go through massive changes, and having these changes affect your relationship with them, can take a toll. Remind yourself that you’re doing your best to support them, and let your teen know that you’re always there for them if they need you.

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