Nearly every day parents ask me how to help their “wayward young adult” or how to heal the heart of their “disconnected teen.” Children displaying unnatural affection by disconnecting from loving parents is an epidemic in our modern society. Normal human development involves increasingly seeking for autonomy as a person launches into adulthood. However, turning a heart away from parents and family and toward unstable social influences isn’t a natural or historically healthy way to develop. During this time of social and ideological confusion, it’s vital that parents remember who they are and take deliberate steps to help heal the suffering that their children are experiencing because of this socially perpetuated epidemic of improper parent/child attachment.

Natural, Normal Development

Nothing is more natural than for offspring to look up to their parent for teaching and direction as they develop into adults. The animal world shows us this example as birds and beasts teach their offspring to hunt, gather, protect, nurture, and survive. It’s obvious when observing the growth and development of people that they cannot thrive or survive autonomously. The child couldn’t get here without parents, and can’t survive without them after birth either. We’re engineered to rely upon each other for optimal thriving.

During adolescence, youth who are developing normally will want to make more decisions for themselves, test a few boundaries, and want to know more about life outside the family. They will experiment with new relationships and attempt to do adult-like work and recreation. Wise parents expect this and plan for how to allow their children to spread their wings while also keeping them morally and physically safe.

Over-controlling a youth during this time by micro-managing their lives is not a good plan because the youth will start to feel suffocated and sense that they aren’t learning enough to become adults. But, under-observation by parents and total license during this time could even be more detrimental to the child. People thrive with information and boundaries. Conscientious parents give information and boundaries and guide children through maturation and launching. They don’t just turn them loose.

When children are small, parents assume that their children will always follow their examples as they grow. Yet, many parents don’t factor in the powerful way that influences outside the home and in media also form their children, until it’s too late.

Strangers and Aliens Raising The World

Improper attachment is a spreading disease. Some claim the attachment issues are the result of excessive use of devices by parents and children. Other experts say that the lack of bonding problems are a result of parents not maintaining proper parental authority. And still others blame teachers and schools for leading their children away from identity and healthy family connections by marking parents as “obstacles” to a child, instead of identifying parents as teachers for the child. Then, there is the argument that pop culture is to blame for stealing the hearts of children by making them entitled, lazy, and disconnected. No matter which of these reasons is causing the most problems for family dynamics, it’s clear that all of these social changes lead to the same end; detachment of child from parents.

Strangers and aliens from outside the family unit are raising children and creating family identity problems as well as encouraging priority misplacement and lack of family focus. Many youth and young adults who are allowing themselves to be raised by strangers and aliens to the family are rejecting their parents’ teachings and disconnecting instead of connecting to their parents; which is what they often need most.

What Parents Can Do

Love, affection, and connection cannot be forced. Each person gets to choose attachment or not. Since that’s the case, it’s best for parents to focus on living principles instead of forcing change in their children. Principles and truths change hearts. Force doesn’t. Here are 7 principles that parents can start living now, so that children feel like it’s safe to bond to parents again.

  1. Be optimistic and kind. Parents who focus their attention on what is going wrong perpetuate disconnection problems instead of allowing the relationship to heal or move on. Drop the subject in your own mind about your less-than-perfect situation so that you can open yourself up to have new experiences and connections in the future. And, definitely don’t start talking bad about your relationship or your child to other people.
  2. Return peace for contention. Calmness, the real kind that’s done out of love and springs from a heart at peace, is incredibly powerful. When your child seems to be putting up emotional walls or tries to emotionally control you, then reach out with peace, calmness and love instead of getting drawn into drama or taking things personally.
  3. Seek to understand. Most children who are acting out don’t feel understood. Some of them don’t even want to be understood, because then they won’t have a reason to disconnect anymore. So, making efforts to understand your child through deliberate discussion can go a long way. Tell them that you know they don’t feel understood, and that you want to understand why they don’t want connection. Also, let them know that you “love them no matter what.”
  4. Give comfort through honest confession. Parents aren’t perfect. So, apologize for what has gone wrong in the past. Clear the air. Bring things into the light. If you broke a confidence or lost emotional control in the past, acknowledge it. Don’t make excuses. Just apologize and explain your resolve to move on. Also, as you apologize for your side of things, they may decide that it’s safe for them to possibly apologize too.
  5. Forgive them. Your child is learning how to solve problems and is bound to make mistakes. Don’t take their disconnection or even their unkind words personally. Recognize the disconnection as a power struggle with a message. The message is, I need help solving this problem. To really forgive means to not think of past mistakes anymore. So, here is another time that you’ll need to drop the subject.
  6. Forgive yourself. After you’ve acknowledged your own fault in the relationship problem, let it go. Don’t dwell on it. You need to allow yourself to become a better version of you.
  7. Build them out of the disconnection and loneliness. Being disconnected can feel very lonely. And, in time it can become a habit to desire loneliness. Build the child out of this loneliness by doing more together, even if it feels awkward at first or they say that they don’t want to do the activities with you. Even if they don’t talk to you during an activity, don’t get discouraged. Simply keep working and playing together. Changing a connection habit can take time. Many people take months to decide that they enjoy the new connection with a person that they have previously rejected. Give it time. Don’t worry. Don’t force. Just keep creating opportunities to connect. Don’t underestimate the value of working together. Work can oftentimes be a more powerful connector than play.

The best way to rescue a child who is pushing themselves and you into lonely emotional corners is to continually remember who they are, who you are, and that even if it doesn’t seem perfect, you will both be better because you have each other. Trust in who you are meant to be as a family unit. Your relationships aren’t a mistake, even if they struggle sometimes. Stay committed and as your child’s heart opens and their brain matures they will find themselves forgetting that they were ever disconnected from you. Keep the door to your heart open. They may not fully apologize for how they’ve treated you. But, no matter. It’s about where you are going together more than it’s about where you’ve been. Dropping the subject is going to be the skill that helps you move on. Keep telling yourself that to move on, you must let the bad stuff from the past go. And, don’t forget to tell them that dropping the subject can help them too. They can forgive and move on if they also learn to let things go.

Improve your calmness and connection with Nicholeen’s free Calm Parenting Toolkit.