• Behavior
  • Parenting

Why is my older teen picking fights with our family?

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Teen girl with long hair covering face curled up on couch, face buried in her knees, after a fight with her mom, who's in the background.

In this article, you'll find answers to questions like:

1. What is “soiling the nest?”
2. What’s causing this?
3. How can I help?  

If you find yourself struggling with your high schooler as graduation approaches, a concept known as “soiling the nest” may be the reason. Let us help you navigate this delicate time with our expert tips as your child asserts independence in preparation for leaving home for college or a career.  

1. WHAT IS “SOILING THE NEST?”

Some teens argue more with their families as graduation nears, unconsciously trying to make it easier to part ways when they move out of the house, according to Grown and Flown’s website.

But the conflict steals fleeting family time, says Kelly Powell, vice president of community services for Community Partners of South Florida. The organization manages Palm Beach County’s Positive Parenting Program, known as Triple P. As a result of the tension, hurt feelings and silence replace playful conversation and laughter over dinner. Thus, the home “nest” becomes soiled for everyone.  

It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

Communication is crucial, and with the right tools, parents and teens can work through this transition while learning more about each other, she says. The Triple P programs, which are free and funded by Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, can help facilitate this.    

2. WHAT’S CAUSING THIS?  

Teens often act out of fear of the future because of their lack of life experience, Powell says. That’s where the Teen Outreach Program, known as TOP, can help. TOP uses a teen club model at several high schools to help students formulate healthy behaviors and life skills while giving them a sense of purpose.  

“We empower young adults and support them in their choices, whether it’s a trade school, college or deciding to work a few years first after graduation,” she says.  

3. HOW CAN I HELP?  

An essential first step is accepting this transition will be challenging for both of you. Let your teen know you understand possible feelings of fear, anger, frustration and confusion, but you are there as support.

Encourage your teen to talk about feelings of loss and future hopes. Open-ended questions like these below and more from Psychology Today’s “Managing College Transitions: A Guide for Parents” can help:  

    • What excites you most about being on your own?
    • What concerns you most?
    • How are you feeling about leaving home?

Powell encourages you to listen closely to your teen’s plans but resist interjecting your ideas about the future. Though we know it’s difficult, this kind of restraint actually can build trust and a deeper connection.  

SOURCES:

 • Kelly Powell, vice president of community services, Community Partners of South Florida 
Grown and Flown 
Psychology Today  

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