“I don’t know my family anymore.” A teenager recently shared that sentiment with me and I wonder if there are other teens (and their families) who are going through this experience. How does your teenager come to feel alienated from the family? Now we have all heard that adolescence is a “turbulent” time of development and you may even wonder about the “alien” part of that alienated! However, teens don’t exist in a vacuum. They are very much part of two sometimes very distinct systems. Of course, the first system is the family unit. This is familiar territory, a known entity. Each member plays a role in the system and there is history in all the relationships. The second “system” has been termed “the second family” by Ron Taffel, who wrote a book by that same name. 1 This second family consists of a teen’s circle of friends – a tightly knit circle that can sometimes seem impenetrable. Many parents may not want to know what goes on within these circles, but it is imperative today’s parents involve themselves in their teen’s life so that this second family doesn’t create a wall between teens and parents. Taffel emphasized this when he stated, “A new paradigm of parenting is called for, requiring adults to honor and understand this “second family” and to build a bridge so that kids can find their way home.”
So how is that bridge built? Consistent, honest, open communication is the first step. Teens need to know they can talk to you parents. Remember that they will find someone to talk to or a way to express themselves if talking to a parent isn’t an option. The “someone” and/or the method of expression may be less than your ideal for them at best and dangerous at worst. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Ideally this training starts early and remains consistent through the teen years. Besides communication, structure and boundaries are important materials for building the bridge. These serve as buffers to help teens reign back in when needed. Finally, modeling is a key element of the bridge parents must build. If your teen can’t look to you as an example, then to whom will they look? Today’s teens have self-esteem. What they often lack is a sense of purpose and direction. I Timothy 4:12 instructs young people in this regard: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you’re young but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” As parents, you are in a great position to model for your teens how to be a model to their generation. The construction of that bridge may be difficult and tiring at times, but the end result will be a teen who stays connected to the family.

1 The Second Family by Ron Taffel, 2001

[Originally written in April 2008]

Author's Bio: 

Lori Payne is a Licensed Professional Counselor & Supervisor who specializes in working with teens. She has worked in residential, outpatient, & school settings over the past 13+ years & currently has a private practice. Additional specialties include self-injury & substance abuse. Lori seeks to assist teens in finding their voice & identity while creating a healthy, vibrant path. She also enjoys working with adults & families dealing with various life issues. Lori's main purpose is to make a difference.