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Exploring the Shift in Parental Support During Adolescence

By Caitlin Houston


We have all heard the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In most communities, support for new parents is very strong from birth until early elementary school. But at some point, the villagers start to back away for numerous reasons. Today, many parents feel lost and alone while navigating the new territory of adolescence.


Is there a change in the parental support system as children get older?

Parents are important anchors in their child’s life from birth. They provide a sense of security while also supplying basic needs. As young children rely on parents for nearly everything, many parents count on their village for support. This “village” consists of caring adults working in a collaborative effort to provide parents with support and resources.

In addition to family and friends, there are systemic resources which exist to support families and caregivers during the early years of parenthood. In Connecticut, the Office of Early Childhood oversees a network of early childhood care, education and development programs for the most critical years: birth to 5 years. Parents have countless resources at their fingertips from infancy through toddlerhood, preschool and early childhood. There is a wealth of information about every aspect of a child’s development.

Once a child enters kindergarten, resources become mostly school-based. Public education is the next step in government support for children and families after the age of five. Communication is consistent with parents and caregivers in the school system. But as both parents and children approach the adolescent stage, there seems to be a shift in the type of support readily available. The number of “villagers” dissipate, so what once looked like a bustling community now feels deserted.


Why do support resources shift for parents as children get older?

A possible answer is that the community wants to encourage independence in children.

Chrissy Khachane is a child development specialist, former educator and mother of three. She believes there is a growing body of research that supports the idea there is a shift in the community’s involvement once a child reaches adolescence. Autonomy intensifies as adolescents begin to separate from their parents to find their own identity and think independently. Developing independence is a crucial part of growing up. It has numerous positive effects on a child’s life, such as increased self-esteem and self-worth. However, there is a limit on how much freedom a parent can bestow on their child. Too much freedom can lead to poor decision making and unwanted risks.

The education system is one of the first places a child will find support during his or her quest for independence, especially once a child enters middle school. In sixth grade, there is a collective push for children to be self-sufficient with lockers, schedules and rotating classrooms. Guidance counselors meet with students to discuss educational goals. Children can choose their own school related extracurriculars, clubs and sports programs.

During the middle school years, parents are not instructed to take a giant step back from parenting. Instead, parents are expected to pause and observe while their children assert this newfound independence and make their own decisions.

As a result, many parents begin to feel disconnected from the system. Natasha Mendes, mother of twin boys in middle school, said, “Suddenly you have no idea what is going on at school unless your sixth grader tells you, which truthfully can be hard.” As children explore more independence in school, parents are expected to become less dependent on the school system for updates.


If the school does not provide guidance, is it up to the community to supply resources? 

Sara Tellerino, a mother of six children ages 3-14, said she noticed there are very few resources from the school system for navigating the later years of childhood. “Of course you can get support from the school for big issues, but if it’s a general question about parenting an 11-year old, forget it. We sometimes have to be willing to advocate for our children. No one comes to you and says they see your child struggling. We are expected to notice these things first.”

Parents can build and grow their own village at any time—it just takes a little bit of work. A parent must network to build their village the same way we would network in a job or for a career. It takes a lot of courage and dedicated time to establish connections when we are juggling their family and career.

“The information coming from the school to parents drops off drastically when you switch to middle school. There is a PTO at the school…I did try to go to meetings in the beginning, but there weren’t a lot of parents there, so I gave up,” said C.B., a Connecticut mother of three. She is one of many parents who feels as if there is no encouragement from the schools or the community for parents to work together to navigate this stage of parenting.


Are there less resources for parents of older children because less parents are asking for help?

Khachane stated it can be difficult for parents of older children to ask for support because it challenges their credibility as a parent. As C.B. navigates the middle school years, she finds herself wondering if she is supposed to be encouraging independence, worrying if she steps in too much she may be perceived as a helicopter parent. Do parents want to admit they don’t know what they are doing?

What it boils down to is this: there is no guidebook or introductory course for parents entering the adolescent stage of parenthood. For some reasons, society and the government put a lot of effort into helping parents through the first years of life, while the education system assists through the elementary years. Parents can build their own village of support from other parents, pediatricians and specialists—but, ultimately, they may feel still alone or lost. Resources for parents of older children do exist, they are just not distributed as they should be.

Caitlin Houston, mother of three, is the blogger behind the self-titled Caitlin Houston Blog, an authentic life and style site established in 2008. Caitlin covers sometimes hard to talk about topics in the motherhood and mental health categories as well as New England living, style and family travel.