Family Dynamics has a major influence on how a teen perceives themselves in the world. Indeed, this early perception of themselves can carry on into adulthood and inform their sense of identity in general. Therefore, teens must have a healthy family dynamic growing up. Parents should consider what their family dynamic is, if it’s healthy or if there are areas that could do with improvement. Let’s take a look at some of the factors that make up a family dynamic, and their impact on teens and pre-teens.
The size of a family can impact a teen
Factors like how many siblings a teen has, and their place within that structure, can affect a teen’s development. For example, a teen who has a multitude of siblings may feel lost. They feel that they’re not receiving adequate attention. This can cause them to act out to seek it. They might also seek attention from other groups to compensate. While forming a family of friends is a good thing, it’s important to make sure that a teen doesn’t seek attention or gratification from a more toxic environment that preys on their need to feel valued. Alternatively, they may choose to withdraw altogether and this can have an impact on how they perceive themselves in society in general.
On the other hand, a teen with no siblings may find themselves the centre of attention the whole time. They might find this suffocating or overwhelming, feeling overprotected and this can cause them to rebel. It’s also possible that by being ‘spoiled’ as the only child they develop a sense of entitlement that echoes through to external relationships be they in school, work, sports teams, friend groups, etc. Unchecked, this can carry through to adulthood.
The relationship their parents have with each other
The relationship between parents can be one of the most influential factors in a teen’s life, both through adolescence and into their adult years. A healthy, respectful relationship between their parents based on love and equality is a healthy foundation that can inform a teen’s own developing relationships. In contrast, a negative, toxic relationship can have a negative impact. For instance, a scenario where one parent is dominant over the other can have harmful effects on the children. They may develop a warped view whereby they perceive such a relationship as ‘ok’ and go on to perpetuate it in their own relationships. Alternatively, they may develop such a jaded view of relationships that they simply chose not to pursue any of their own.
Is there a family member that needs special attention?
Some family dynamics include a family member that requires extra or special attention. It could be a sibling with a disability. It could be an elderly grandparent. It could be someone recovering from an accident. These will require extra energy and attention from parents and other family members. This can have positive impacts on a teen’s development if they’re included and encouraged to develop empathy and understanding. However, it’s important to be mindful that a teen may feel neglected if they’re unable to receive adequate attention themselves as a result. It’s not an easy situation for anyone, but try your best to make time for them at regular intervals and hear what they have to say.
Good family values
It’s important to instil a good set of family values in your children. Parents should lead by example, but without being overly judgemental either. While parents should of course make sure that their teens are cognisant of what is right and wrong, when it comes to areas such as religious values, parents should make allowances for the fact that teens may choose not to follow their religious path (or perhaps take up a different one). Parents should respect such choices, and not berate or punish teens for withdrawing from a given religion. Such berating is only likely to drive them further from them, rather than bring them back into the fold.
Empathy should be integral to any family unit
If teens experience empathy from their parents, they’re more likely to become compassionate themselves. Such empathy can be directed both within the family unit and externally. Parents should show their children (and each other) empathy and understanding when it comes to mistakes or when family members don’t perform well in a sport, job, or exam. They should also be sure to show compassion and fairness when it comes to scolding a teen; shouting and raving at them will only push them further away. It’s also beneficial when teens see their parents show empathy outside the family unit, whether they be engaged in charitable works or simply trying to help a teen understand a situation a friend, classmate, colleague, or neighbour is going through. This will help the teen develop a greater sense of compassion throughout their adolescence and into their adult lives.
Expectations shouldn’t be forced
A family environment where members are valued for their achievements alone is never healthy. While praise for success is fine, parents should be mindful of not creating a situation whereby a teen constantly hears about their siblings’ successes as though they too will only be of value if they perform likewise. Likewise, parents should not create an environment where a teen feels that they need to follow in their parents’ footsteps, be it in the pursuit of a sport, career, or another field. For example, a family unit where they eat, live and breathe sport could lead a non-sporty teen to feel that they are a bit of an outsider. This could perpetuate into how they feel in other areas of life such as in school or in friend groups.
Parents should be humble
We all make mistakes. A family dynamic where a parent isn’t afraid to admit when they are wrong is far more healthy than one where a parent never admits fault. For one thing, it prevents unrealistic expectations of perfection. For another, teens are at a stage where they are starting to figure out that adults aren’t infallible; they’ll only resent a parent who never admits when they’re wrong which will only cause friction. Plus, by seeing their parents act humble they are less likely to develop a sense of arrogance or hubris themselves.
Be wary of creating a ‘reverse dynamic’
Unfortunately, in some family situations, the parent-child dynamic is reversed. While in some instances this is difficult to avoid (for example, whereby a child becomes a caregiver due to a parent’s accident) it’s important to make sure that they’re getting adequate external support, be it from another adult (perhaps an aunt or uncle) or a social worker. There also exist situations where an alcoholic parent might use a teen to keep them supplied with alcohol, or even earn money for the family while they can’t work. All this places undue pressure and stress on a teen, which can affect their ongoing development and cause various mental health disorders to arise such as anxiety or depression.
Divorce or estrangement can impact a teen’s development
Naturally, divorce significantly impacts a family dynamic and the development of the children and teens within. If not handled well, a divorce can cause mental health issues including anxiety and anger issues in teens. If one parent moves away, the teen may become estranged from them. Witnessing their parents break up can of course have negative impacts on how to perceive, and develop, their own relationships in life. I’ve put together an article going through the impact of divorce on teens here.
Family traumas affect a teen’s development
A family trauma such as a death, accident, or, as mentioned above, a divorce, can affect a teen well into adulthood. Traumas can trigger all sorts of mental health issues, such as anxiety, addiction, and even guilt. Be sure to check out my page on trauma which discusses the impact of trauma in greater detail.
These are just some of the factors in a family dynamic that can affect a teen’s development. As a parent, it’s important to take stock and consider if any of these issues are present in your own family dynamic, and take steps to change them if this is the case.
If this is something you are struggling with, please feel free to get in touch with me and we can look at scheduling a consultation if you feel that your family dynamic could benefit from outside help, or if your teen is affected by some of the issues mentioned above.