Your teen has asked to spend more time with their other parent. Should you say yes?
As children mature during adolescence and their later teen years, they want their needs and opinions to be taken into account when parenting decisions must be made. For divorced parents, this can mean updating co-parenting philosophies you’ve followed since your kids were small. In order to support your kids’ personal growth, it’s helpful to understand the development stages of adolescence and early adulthood.
Adolescence and Young Adult Stages in Human Development
20th century developmental psychologist Erik Erikson won a Pulitzer for his research into human development. He found that individuals need to master developmental milestones in eight distinct stages across the lifespan in order to lead fulfilling lives.
The goal of adolescence (12-18) is to develop a sense of self. People in this stage ask the questions, “who am I?” and “how do I fit in?” to figure out their values and goals. Establishing a strong self-concept gives young people a vision of their future and enthusiasm about moving into early adulthood.
The goal of young adulthood (18-40) is to build close long-term bonds. People who find comfort in committed, nurturing relationships are less likely to experience depression and isolation. Similar to the ties formed between a child and a parent, bonds with partners and close friends create a “secure base” that provides a buffer against the inevitable storms in life.
Parenting Issues To Revisit As Children Mature
Little kids need to know what the rules are; bigger kids need to understand why the rules are the way they are. As your child moves through adolescence and young adulthood, you need to stop treating them the way you did when they were younger. Instead of telling them how things are going to be, listen to what they want and involve them in the decision-making process.
- Dating. Some divorced parents decide not to date when their children are young in order to focus exclusively on a small child’s needs and wants. But as children grow, it’s important for them to see you getting your needs fulfilled outside of parenthood. Many adult children of divorce report feeling emotionally burdened by parents whose purpose came solely from raising children. Takeaway: if you’ve stayed single, consider pursuing a new romantic relationship so your kids don’t worry about how you’ll fare when they leave home — especially if they’re urging you to!
- Timeshare. Young children need frequent contact with both parents in order to feel connected with each; they rely on their parents to identify and meet their needs. But as children begin to individuate (see themselves as distinct from their parents), they become more cognizant of their own needs and don’t require as much direction from parents. For instance, an adolescent may want to spend more time with his same-gender parent. Or a teenage girl may want to live primarily with her mother, simply because that home is closer to her friends. Takeaway: listen to your older child’s desires when revisiting a custody order.
- Communication. When kids are little and rely on parents to structure their lives, effective communication with your co-parent is essential to provide consistency. But adolescents and young adults should be encouraged to advocate for themselves, and direct any issues with one parent to that parent. Takeaway: Running interference infantilizes mature children and creates conflict with your ex. Support your children in finding their own voice.
- Frequency of contact. When drafting custody agreements, many parents detail how often they’re allowed to speak to their children when they’re at the other parent’s home. Staying in regular close contact with both parents is important to help your child form secure attachments. But the amount of contact you have with your child should change as they get older. For instance, your three-year-old may have needed to FaceTime with you everyday; but your 15-year-old is probably more interested in FaceTiming their friends. Takeaway: don’t intrude on your children’s time because you’re having separation anxiety; allow them space and encourage them to reach out to you when need be.
- Holidays. Young adult children are busy forming their grown-up lives. Once they start their own family, and/or move far away, planning holidays and vacation time gets more complicated and expensive. This fact of life holds true for intact families, but is even more complex with divorced families because there are more households involved. Takeaway: you may not be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and winter holidays the way you did when your kids were growing up, so adjust your expectations.
Revisiting your parenting plan can feel threatening because you must face the reality that your child is forming their own identity and separating from you. But this should be the goal of every parent, regardless of marital status: to recognize who your children are and to support them in becoming healthy, independent adults.