Create a close family for your adolescent

From adolescence on most people can describe whether or not their family was closely connected. What are the benefits of having a close family and how can parents create the environment that enhances their children’s lifelong autonomy and wellbeing?

A close family is one in which mutual acceptance, respect, goodwill and safety is shared. It facilitates one’s capacity to be seen and heard and models how to give and receive love and caring within the embracing support of the family.

Some have been concerned that children who have been close to their parents would not easily “emancipate” from parental reliance and would, instead, stay dependent and less self-sufficient during their adult years. Others have posed that parents who stay close to their young adult children may inhibit their capacity for settling down and establishing their own intimate relationships.

Dr. Nirit Yanir of the University of Haifa, Israel studied the impact of close family bonds of 23- to 27-year-old subjects through extensive interviews and psychological evaluations of the youngsters and their parents. She found that young adults who had a close relationship with their parents were “more financially self-sufficient, more mature, more independent in their day-to-day lives, professionally stable and more likely to have solid intimate relationships.”

Yanir concluded, “Following adolescence, the familial connection is an important factor in forming one’s identity and living an independent life. It seems that not only can independence and closeness exist together, but they actually flourish together.” These findings may quell the concerns that being close to a young adult child may be hazardous to his/her autonomy, self- determination, success or intimate connections.

How can parents create a close family connection with their teenagers during their rebellious and rebuffing period? The answer lies in developing a mentorship – not a disciplinarian stance. When parents affirm their adolescent’s curiosity, positive intent, basic good-nature, even when the behavior is unacceptable, they may have greater leverage in providing both support and guidance about the teen’s choices and actions.

Here is the six-step formula for parents to create a bonded connection with their youngsters:

1. Contain your fear, outrage and overwhelm when your youngster acts irresponsibly.

2. Use the “Ask- Don’t Tell” method. Say, “Tell me what you were thinking/wanting when you decided to do this?” Use a curious – not furious voice.

3. Validate the intent, “I understand that you wanted to belong when you joined this activity.”

4. Ask in a monotone voice, “How do you feel about what you did?”

5. Restate what was said in a non-disapproving voice, “So you think it was fine to be a part of this group behavior.”

6. Validate the youngster’s judgment, “I know you are a fair and capable person. Please think about it some more and let’s talk about it again tomorrow.”

Exhibiting a calm, respectful attitude enables your teenager to feel supported, learn self-monitoring, question his/her values and trust his/her future judgment as he/she relies on the close family bond.


September 22, 2013


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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