Alienation affects nearly all teens at some time in their lives. Because the teenage life is a life of self-discovery, much of what is going on between your kid’s two ears is introspection, which is intrinsically lonely. But as a parent, you can make the journey easier by communicating openly with your teen.
Some teens choose to alienate themselves from others, usually family members. This choice often arises from strong differences, differences that teens perceive as unresolvable. Parents usually encourage their teenagers to focus on what parents perceive as important: strong academic performance, responsibilities to the family and siblings, and personal safety. But teens tend to have goals strikingly different, such as having fun, trying new activities and looking good in front of their friends. When teens and parents are at an impasse, the teen might decide to cut ties, at least in terms of communication and emotional expression. The result is a teen who seems alienated from the family, growing apart from those closest to her.
High school consists of many cliques. Some of these cliques are popular, while others contain groups of less-popular children. Most teens are incapable of controlling the social norms and will usually end up joining a clique, even if it’s not the one they wish to be in. Alternatively, some teens will simply find themselves alone in their social environment, essentially being a loner in the school. Certain characteristics will get a teen excluded from the “in” cliques. The social fabric of most high schools requires gossip, bullying and rumor-spreading to keep “out” members down. For many teens, alienation is not a choice but something that occurs when they enter a high school that happens to resist a certain type of person such as a disabled teen.
Both self-alienation and peer alienation result in some level of loneliness. But as social science professor Jodi Dworkin mentions in her book, “Teen Decision Making about Risky Behaviors,” a teen who cuts communication with his parents lacks the benefits that parent-child communication bring, including social support and strong decision-making skills. Likewise, a teen who gets excluded from his peer group feels that sense of loneliness throughout the school day, whether sitting alone during lunch or being ignored during group work.
What You Can Do
Certain emotions can bring a teen down, making her less likely to act in productive ways. A lonely teen is likely to feel sad or depressed throughout the day. Those emotions rarely spark the motivation to act optimistically, which is really what an alienated teen needs to get herself back into her family and social environment. Psychologist John Gottman, author of the book “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” points out that because the teen years are characterized by the drive for self-discovery, a teen who is in sync with his emotions will be more likely to act in ways that improve his circumstances. Parents can help in this process by fostering open communication in the family. This requires the willpower to avoid direct suggestions and commands, and judgment statements. Parents who find their teens in a lonely, alienated state, should avoid giving unsolicited advice or making statements such as “You’re too introverted to be popular” or “You need to be more outgoing.” By focusing on listening rather than advice-giving, you allow your teen to openly express himself, which helps him realize how aware he is of his circumstances.