Tweens & Teens: When they get emotionally distant

tweens teensNote from Gwen & Shannon: This Tweens & Teens Q&A features real-life answers from NWA mamas. We’ve asked the moms to write anonymously so they can be as brutally honest as possible. One of the moms featured here is also a licensed professional counselor so she is tackling these questions both personally and professionally.

Whether you have teenagers or babies, this topic is one that will impact all of us at one time or another. Hope these insights from fellow local moms help you navigate this important time in your teenager’s life.

I know teenagers are supposed to separate from parents, but the emotional distance between me and my teenage daughter is killing me lately. How do I “let her go” and keep her close at the same time?

mama JBoy do I remember this stage! It feels terrible, but intellectually you know that it’s a normal part of growing up. One thing that helped me and my daughter was that we had a conversation one day where we “named it and claimed it.” We talked about how we both recognized what was happening and admitted that even though it is a normal stage (emotional separation), it still causes some heartache on both sides.

The ironic thing is the way teenagers seem to vacillate between seeming SO INDEPENDENT one moment, then utterly helpless, hapless and CLUELESS the next! Giving my daughter distance when she needed (or demanded!) it, but remaining available when she did seem to need or want me around (which wasn’t often!) was my strategy. I’m happy to report that we both survived the emotional separation and are slowly but surely drawing closer together — now that she lives five hours away!


mama KThis is one of the toughest aspects of parenting, in my opinion. I think you have to look for the victory in the situation. If your child is starting to distance herself, it’s likely because you’ve consistently given her the tools and support she needed to gain enough confidence to start finding her own way.

I’ve always said I didn’t raise my child with the intent for her to always cling to me–but instead raised her to find out and celebrate who she is independent of me. I firmly believe that giving our kids enough room to develop themselves, but with a clear message that we’re always there for them, is what will ultimately bring them back to us.

I believe the best thing I did for my daughter was to fully engage in and support the things she was passionate about–so she knew I was in her corner and incredibly proud of her–while giving her room to have some privacy and down time that didn’t have to involve me. What resulted was the development of shared passions, which formed a foundation for us that sustained our relationship during some of the more tumultuous times.

If you give your daughter the space she needs, she will better appreciate the time you’re spending together. We all know (and avoid) people who try to hold on too tight and smother those around them. Giving her space doesn’t mean you’re losing her…it means you’re respecting the person she’s growing into.


mama MAs a parent, we’re still “coaching” our kids… no matter how old they are. One of the ways we coach is helping our kids manage their relationships. And relationships need investment. Teaching teens to have a balance between friends and family is a valuable lesson.

I’d suggest adding “functional predictability” into your family. This means you’ll have certain rituals that help people in the family invest in each other — things like “We Eat Together Wednesdays,” “Log Cabin Night (with no electronics),” “Game Nights,” etc.

Most of all, make sure that being at home with you is FUN.