Is Your Teen Rejecting Your Values? It’s Normal
When your child is young, you teach them right and wrong in very basic ways.
“Clean up after yourself”
“In our family, we don’t hurt each other.”
“Mommy and Daddy don’t use mean words, and we don’t want you to use mean words.”
When your child is young, you tell them, and show them: this is what is important to us, and hence, important to you. Young kids usually accept the values you share with them (even if they do not always comply).
They are learning from you about your take on right and wrong, what’s important to you and what’s not. You can hear young kids say, “We care about the earth and so we don’t litter,” (We = their family.)
When your 8 year old turns into a 16 year old, this sweet acceptance of your values can disappear.
In its place you may have a teen who challenges your deeply held values.
And, when your teen rejects a value you hold dear, you may feel shocked, hurt, disappointed.
Try not to be.
Here are six points to consider when your teen questions or challenges your values. I hope this helps you feel less upset, less hurt, and even, possibly, excited to see where your teen’s questioning takes her.
Teens are in the “identity development” stage of life. Teens want (and need) to become an adult person separate from mom and dad. It’s hard. Part of the process can involve shining a harsh light on the things you have taught them. Under that critical light, they are testing out your values and choosing which apply to them. Some of their choices will be temporary (rejecting your faith but returning to it at age 27) and some will be permanent (they may never value frugality the way you do). Instead of being defensive, talk to your teen about their developing values. Ask questions, “Why is that important to you?”, “What does it mean to you to value friendship?”. These kinds of conversations pull her towards you instead of away from you. This can also help him clarify his developing values, and eventually own them or discard them. Adam Price, author of He’s Not Lazy, Empowering Your Son to Believe in Himself, offers suggestions for questions you might ask: “what personal qualities do you want to be known for?” and “What would you want your friend to say about you in a toast?” If you want more help with clarifying values so you can help your teen clarify values, the He’s Not Lazy book also has an “Exploring Values” exercise in the appendix and HERE is a nice article, designed for businesses, but very applicable.
The transformation from child to adult involves loss. Psychologist Brad Sachs, author of When Noone Understands, calls this transformation a grief process. Part of that loss is the loss of that feeling of oneness with parents that wraps kids up like a security blanket. Understand that the loss of that blanket of values and beliefs that wrapped you all up together hurts her too. Your teen felt more comfortable and safer when she believed everything you believed. But this loss has to happen for your teen to grow into their own independent person.
If their rejection of your values seems to be a rejection of you, it is probably not. Reframe it as their attempt to be their own individual and it will hurt less. They don’t want to go camping because outdoor time is just not important to them right now. It is probably not a rejection of you, although it may be a rejection of their role as your “child”.
Teens who feel connected to parents are more likely to hear their parents message about values and accept their parents’ values. You as a parent deeply love your child, and you imagine that he feels that 100%. BUT amazingly, this can be lost on a teen who is often “in trouble,” or often at odds with you. As they say in the Positive Discipline world, be sure the message of love is getting through and spend as much positive expectation-free time with your teen as you can.
Be open to your own change and growth, alongside your teen. When your teen rejects a value, consider how you really feel about it too. Are you valuing honesty over kindness? Are you valuing helping others to the detriment of taking care of yourself? Maybe, maybe not. But don’t be afraid to use this stage of your child’s life as an opportunity for the entire family to grow and learn and even maybe change.
If your teens challenges to your family’s values is causing a lot of tension, consider sitting down all together and making a family mission statement. (Of course, it is great to do this when the kids are little too) Creating a family mission statement is an opportunity to talk openly about values, shared and not shared, and come to a mutual decision about what is important to you as a family. This idea was first proposed by Steven Covey, creator of the seven habits books, “A family mission statement is a combined, unified expression from all family members of what your family is all about — what it is you really want to do and be — and the principles you choose to govern your family life.” HERE is a nice article about creating family mission statements. Family meetings can be a perfect place to work on a family mission statement. You can get my free download of the Family Meetings with Teens guide HERE.
Laura Cleary is a community social worker with over 20 years of experience working with you and families in a community setting, She is a parent educator, parent coach and mom to three young adults. Find out more and get resources at Parentingthebigkids.com.
To reach Laura, email firstname.lastname@example.org