From the Therapist's Desk

HEALING PARENT-CHILD ESTRANGEMENT IN TEENS

At this age if an absent parent hasn't sought out their child, the child may be seeking them. These children are able to move from the fantasy of a reunion that they carried as a child to the idea that they can search out the missing parent themselves.

For children with absent fathers the risks of not having a father figure in their lives can lead to increased sexual activity for girls who may crave male attention and may leave boys floundering when it comes to forming intimate relationships.

If you have not been active in your child's life for several years, don't expect to have an authoritative or disciplinarian role. Be the role model for how they should live and provide support for the boundaries established by the custodial parent on such issues as drinking, drugs, dating, school, enrichment activities, church, and curfews.

Be on the watch for signs that your teen is having difficulty coping. Young men often will tend to appear angry when they are depressed and become more hostile and non-cooperative. Young women often are more likely to show classic signs of depression, withdrawal and isolation; and when unable to process their pain can develop eating disorders and self-harming behaviors.

Both young men and young women in this absent parent scenario may be more likely to turn to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, money, food, relationships to soothe and contain their life challenges.

Young people are exploring themselves in relationships, testing boundaries, and forging their identities. Getting to know a previously absent parent can be critical to that identity formation. If a parent is lucky enough to discover that their estranged child is open to a relationship at this stage, embrace the opportunity and be the best version of yourself!