3 min read

Teenage Rejection: It’s Biologically Scripted.

In the early adolescent years many parents are left hurt and confused by their offspring’s sudden rejection of their love and affection.  Teenagers can appear to go from doting to disliking overnight leading to hurt feelings and conflict.

But parents need to realize that this sudden shift in attachment is biologically scripted and should even be cause for celebration as our teens begin to strike out on their own, just as evolution intended.  It’s a teen’s reject and eject instinct.

Gail Smillie is Carya’s Teen Brain Expert.  She has a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Victoria and has specialized in child and youth mental health for over 30 years.  She explains:

“As toddlers and right up to adolescence our kids follow us around, they dote on us and they cling to us and as parents we become used to being the center of their world.  But when adolescence kicks in, everything changes.  Kids start to individualize and they become less interested in and less comfortable with their parents. 

Research has even shown that male teenagers become repulsed by their mother’s smell in those years, that’s how strong this biological urge to detach becomes.

Why is this happening?  Because evolution has taught us that when we reach sexual maturity, we need to find a new tribe with different genetics to our own in order to successfully reproduce.  People are inherently tribal so in adolescence we reject our family tribe and gather in new groups with those we see as similar to us.  Teenagers sometimes appear to travel in packs and that’s exactly what they’re doing, they’re establishing their roles in a new tribe.

The issue this causes many parents is handling what can feel like rejection or a loss.  Many parents even feel like they need to grieve.  But parents should understand that their kids still love and need them, they just won’t show it in the same way anymore and that’s healthy and positive. 

Parents need to shift from parenting to protect to parenting to prepare and this means allowing their teens the space to put up boundaries and strike out on their own while still being present and engaged.  They can do this by taking the small windows to connect with their teenagers when they can; give them a ride to school, ask about their friends, help them with a school project.  It doesn’t matter what it is, just take the opportunities you get to remain part of their lives. 

At the end of the day, you can’t fight what’s biologically scripted within us, you just need to adapt to it.”

Find out more about the teenage brain at Carya’s Enspire Learning Series Event

Gail will be presenting Crazy by Design: Exploring the Adolescent Brain on November 4th at the Cardel Theatre, SE Calgary at 7pm.

Tickets cost $35 and are available here.