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A Safe Haven for Teenagers
When psychologists talk about attachment and security, we usually talk about infants and young children. Newborns need one or two people to bond with; toddlers need a secure base that they can come back home to in between explorations of the world.

But teenagers have just as much need for a safe haven as younger children do. Teenagers, and preteens also, are often very self-conscious. At school and out with their friends they worry about fitting in, they worry about getting embarrassed or humiliated, they have to have their guard up. If they are lucky, their home can be a safe haven, a place they can be fully themselves, where they don't have to worry about how they look, how they are dressed, pimples, or "hat hair." They can sing silly songs that they'd never sing at school, show affection for their parents, or lounge around in their raggediest pajamas.

For younger children, the secure home base is their primary attachment figure (that means you). For teenagers, you are a part of that secure base, but so is their room and their home. If we think about it this way, maybe it suggests we shouldn't nag them so much about cleaning their room--their goal with a messy room isn't just to annoy us, it may be a source of security for them, because they can really be themselves in their room and not put up a false front. Of course, other kids create their safe haven by having a perfectly neat room. A teenager's safe haven can be disrupted by any big change, such as a separation or divorce, in the same way that a preschoolers world is rocked by a new sibling. Parents who fight, get drunk, or fly into rages can obviously make it harder for a teenager to feel safe and unself-conscious in their own home. At those times they may need special attention to re-establishing a safe haven, or they may temporarily feel safer at a friend's house.

The safe haven can come from other trustworthy people, as well as from home. I believe that teenagers all benefit from having someone they can talk to who is not their parent, but who their parents trust, like a favorite aunt, a therapist, a coach, a guidance counselor, a family friend, a godparent, or a youth group leader. The teenager must trust that the confidante is not going to run to the parents with every detail and secret they share, while the parents have to trust that this listener WILL come to them if there is something they really need to know about.

Was your home (and your family) a safe haven for you growing up?
 

Larry Cohen
phone: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com

 
Larry Cohen
1680A Beacon Street | Brookline, MA 02445 | Tel/Fax: 617-713-0568

email: larjack@playfulparenting.com