The Teen Years are Here – Now What!?

You might notice your teen pulling away, not wanting to spend as much time with you, and who certainly would rather be on their phone than attend most family events.These are the teen years,a time when your teen is breaking away from childhood and experimenting with adulthood. It is a significant time for them and for you as a parent, as you adjust to someone who is pushing away one minute – and wanting a hug the next.

It is a difficult – but a very important – milestone to manage.

Lisa Damour (PhD Psychologist)shares a lot on what is going on during this important developmental phase and how to handle it, in her book: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions’. I highly recommend ordering a copy! 

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

What Does Breaking Away from Childhood Mean?

Breaking away from childhood – the teen years – is this idea of testing out different roles and aspects of adulthood. Almost like they are testing the waters of being an adult without diving in; a safer space to experiment. Your teen will be jumping back and forth between their new experiences, and their childlike demeanour.

I noticed this juxtaposition a lot on a recent vacation with my own teenage son. Usually, my son is very peer orientated. He wants to be with friends All. The. Time. When we were on vacation with no friends, my son wanted to spend a lot of time playing basketball with us every day, even showing physical affection, and playing games with his younger brother. But then later on, he was talking about dating and being in relationships and retreating to the trailer to be by   himself.

This is part of trying out adult roles, while being connected to aspects of childhood. 

Testing out adulthood could be anything for your teen, from sudden changes in fashion – hair, makeup, crop tops, etc. to no longer wanting to spend time with you. Your teen may want to spend most of their time in their room, but then occasionally still enjoy a day of baking with you, like they used to.

When friends are around, there may be a lot more eye rolling, or attitude – “mom, you don’t know anything!” type of behaviour. There’s a lot more pushing you away; you might see  a different side to your teen  when it’s just the two of you.

For the most part, you are held at arm’s length from their life and inner experiences… But when something goes off the rails (fight with friend, relationship ending, etc.) they’ll come to you and ask for advice, or want a hug. This is the flipping back and forth.

Dr. Damour uses the analogy of a swimming pool to explain the concept of breaking away from childhood in  the teen years, a playground image came to my mind – a very similar concept. 

Picture a playground, with the outer border  outlining  the park. In the middle  are the  play structures. The border – or outer edges – represent you as the parent. This is where your teen starts as a child, and then enters the playground. The play structures inside represent  all the different things and experiences they are trying out as they move into adulthood.

Younger children wouldn’t go far from that outer perimeter without having an adult nearby. But as teens, they can’t wait to leave the perimeter – a LOT! They want to be in there playing, trying things out. They want to explore their identity, experiment with new activities, and build different types of relationships.

As a parent, you are on the sidelines a lot of the time – you don’t necessarily know everything that is going on, thoughts, inner experiences etc. And they aren’t keen on sharing… But they will come back to the perimeter if they need a break from all that playground excitement.

When the tire swing makes them dizzy, they will come back to you – the perimeter – to sit for a minute. This is when you might have a moment of opening up a little bit, a sharing of their experience. Your teen may want a hug or a snuggle. They may even want to spend some time with you again…

The outer perimeter of the playground is their safe zone – you are their safe space.

It can be tempting for you to try and keep your teen close to the perimeter. To want things to go back to the way they used to be. But your teen wants to be in the playground , on the structures. That’s where they need to be in order to grow.

It can hurt and feel lonely as a parent to see them run  back off into their own space and take off into the world.

Know that it is very important that your teen has you there at the perimeter to be solid and keep them safe when they need it. For your teen to know they have a safe place to go when they are tired of climbing on the playground.

Understanding how important your role on the perimeter is, can be helpful to get you through this phase.

Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash

Breaking Away from Childhood Is A Celebration

The role you play during the teen years is very important because they need to know they have support. They need to feel safe while they are breaking away from childhood.

The more I understand this process personally, the more I find myself being present in the moments when my teen is on the perimeter of the playground. I recognize how important it is to be there when my son needs a breather from the play structures, from trying new things. It feels empowering for me as a parent to know I am doing what I need to do to move him into healthy adulthood. And yes, at times a bit sad also.

So remember, when your teen doesn’t want to participate, is giving attitude, or would rather be with their friends – it is positive for their development. They are moving towards an important milestone, with you as a safety net. Breaking away from childhood is normal. And it is worth celebrating as a parent.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

Taking Care of Yourself as a Parent in the Teen Years

Although it is a reason to celebrate, the process of breaking away from childhood can feel lonely and hurtful. Your teen may push you away, say mean things, give attitude, etc. You can feel rejected. This is especially true if you had a strong bond with them as a child. Just because this process is normal, doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. There might  be moments of loss, and even grief for you. There could also be a deep need to understand the change within yourself.

Taking care of yourself throughout this process is very important. Understanding what’s going on is a helpful first step. You will also need ways to get your own nurturing. This can be through other adult relationships in your life, like your co-parent, another parent friend or being part of  a community of parents. Being around others who are going through similar things will help you feel less isolated; you are not alone in the struggle. The Happiness Pill Program is a community I am building for you, as well as for your teen during this time. You can check it out here.

This developmental milestone is a time of shifting your focus from constantly being needed by your child, to having some space to recognize your own needs. Yes, your teens still need you, but not in the same continuous way they did when they were little. I encourage you to spend time connecting with things you love and enjoy that fill you up. Find activities or hobbies that were impossible to do when your teen was young and needed you physically all the time. You might see there is  space for new interests!  Not only are you taking care of yourself, but you’re modeling self-care for your teen as they experiment in the adult world.

Setting clear expectations for when your teen is pushing back and experimenting with boundaries is also a key part to taking care of yourself as a parent. Just because your teen needs you at the perimeter of the playground, does not mean you’re a doormat. They cannot walk all over you and treat you any way they like. Sometimes this can be tricky as a parent! Your teen may finally be wanting to spend time with you, and it may feel like telling them something they’ve said was hurtful will blow up and cause a big conflict. But it is absolutely okay to set those expectations – in fact, it will help them learn relationship boundaries that will carry into adulthood!

It is also okay to come back to something your teen has said or done, at a later time. To talk to them the next day and say “hey, what you said last night really hurt me. Let’s think about that choice in language next time.” Or letting them know ‘we don’t name call in this family’ etc.

Setting these boundaries can be emphasized,  if you have the luxury of being in a two-parent (or multi-parent) family, in the following way- Having someone  back you up a little when your teen says mean or inappropriate things. Another adult to say things like “ don’t talk to your mother like that, she deserves your respect just like anyone else”, and reiterate your expectations.

Even if you don’t have a two-person system in your family, it is still important to have clear boundaries and expectations. And to take breaks to care for yourself as the parent. 

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

How to Tell When A Teen’s Behaviours Are Concerning

While breaking away from childhood is a very normal developmental phase, Dr. Damour talks a lot about extremes being a sign of concern.

If your teen isn’t showing any signs of breaking away, it can be concerning – no attitude, push-back or boundary setting, etc. If your teen is constantly  people pleasing, with very little attitude or experimenting with new things, something may be preventing them from breaking from childhood. Being highly anxious to try new things on the play structures, can impede their development.

If your teen is on the other end of the spectrum – constantly in the zone of adult-like behaviour –  it is also something to pay attention to. If your teen is constantly participating in risky behaviours, completely cutting you out, never reverting back to childhood moments, always pushing boundaries, etc., they are showing signs that something concerning is going on. 

Of course, crossing the line with behaviours will be different for everyone based on family rules, values, and expectations. But if your teen is harming themselves or others, it’s important to pay attention. This is a sign that you may need to guide their experiences. 

It’s important to note that teens aren’t consciously pushing back or giving attitude with the thought of “I’m test driving adulthood”, but as parents understanding the context of these behaviors can help you  guide them in terms of  behaviours that are going to help them transition into adult life.

As mentioned earlier, having a community with other parents – knowing you aren’t alone – is crucial for you. Part of The Happiness Pill program is a weekly community call with other parents who know exactly what you’re going through. It is there to bridge the gap in communication between you and your teen. There is guidance along the way, touching base on all the important components of breaking away from childhood.

Check it out here. Or book a strategy call (free) with Chantal to see if the program is something for you.




Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Your Teen Is Vaping, Smoking, and Experimenting: How to Navigate These times as Parents.

“I discovered my teen is vaping experimenting with smoking (weed, etc). What do I do!?”

This is a question several parents have been asking  me lately, after finding rolling papers, vape paraphernalia  and messages on their teen’s phone indicating they might be experimenting.

How do you  address this issue? How do you parent around this without freaking out or going worse case scenario? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m super aware of the potential consequences surrounding substance use for teens and it is definitely something to pay attention to.

I also know if I confront my teen guns blazing and panicking, I will shut them down from trusting me and ever opening up around these situations. If you are a little unsure here, you are not alone.

Read on to check out  how you can navigate these situations going forward.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

My Teen is Vaping: Start A Conversation

People have different values and beliefs when it comes to substance use and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Factors that influence your response may depend on who, when, where and under what circumstances.. A lot of parents hope their teens just won’t try any of it at all.

It’s really important to address this, no matter what your beliefs or values are. I highly encourage open discussions about it with your teen. Not always easy for sure, and sometimes met with blank stares and silence. Share your expectations regarding this issue. Where do you stand on cigarette use, vaping, alcohol, drugs? Do you have hard lines on things? Do you want them to come to you if they are in a tricky situation?

Finding a message (or paraphernalia) that indicates your teen is experimenting can send you into a crisis mode tailspin. Before you let fear take over, consider this an opportunity (of many) to have a conversation with your teen where you can start becoming clear on where you stand with your values around substance use, and your expectations for your teen when it comes to experimenting.

If you’re co-parenting, this is also a great time to get on the same page (or at least in the same chapter!) as your co-parent.

This will not be a one and done conversation – you will want to think about it as multi-layered:

1. Responding to the situation that’s happening in the moment (e.g. finding the vape pod) How are you going to deal with this as a family and as the parent?

2. The long game conversations. How are you going to handle these issues going forward? What are your expectations around their use and how can you support the likelihood of them making choices in favor of their wellness most of the time?

3. Keeping the relationship at the foundation. How do you make it about the behaviour and not the person? How do you get the messages across around expectation and hold as a priority that you are there for them with unconditional love regardless of mistakes and choices made?

Photo by Gras Grun on Unsplash

My Teen is Vaping: Understanding Why

Conversations around substance use can be awkward and difficult. They can often seem very one sided. However, Understanding why your teen is experimenting with substances is a really important piece.

The more you can put out an invitation for your teen(s) to be open and let you know what’s going on, the better. Let curiosity take the lead here if you can. Let them know that the stakes are not super high in exchange for their honesty. That doesn’t mean you’re condoning their behaviour or that there won’t be consequences for the behaviour… It is just being clear with your teen that opening up around why they are experimenting, is a place of you trying to understand and not that they will be punished for speaking their truth.

It’s a bit of a tricky balance.

Here are some of the reasons why teens may be experimenting:

Curiosity and Experimentation.
Teen brains are seeking dopamine, which is the body’s natural chemical related to the  pleasure/reward system. They will seek things that are thrilling and exciting to them that will boost dopamine levels. You will see higher risk behaviours. It’s just the way it is. This is part of the process of an adolescent becoming an adult.

Some teens have channeled this into a sport or an activity that they do (mountain biking, playing an instrument, doing things with friends that are more exciting etc.) All of these things are ways to increase dopamine. Various drugs will increase dopamine the brain making them alluring to some.

Photo by Yasin Yusef on Unsplash

Some teens will turn to certain behaviours to avoid, or get rid of unpleasant thoughts and feelings – things like self-harm, contemplating suicide, diving deep into distraction as a way to avoid the thoughts and feelings, or using substances that alter some of their brain chain reactions. Of course, there can be negative long term side effects to some of these choices. But, at the moment they can seem helpful; they give temporary relief.

Peer/Social Pressure.
If teens are in an environment or spending time with people who are exploring and using substances there’s sure to be a  certain amount of  peer pressure. A sense of belonging – important for humans in general – is heightened for adolescents that are in identity formation; they are really trying to find who their people are.

Push Back.
Teens are in the process of becoming more independent and gaining autonomy from their family of origin. This can look many different ways, including using substances as part of pushing back against family rules, values, and beliefs. If the teen’s family is highly against trying substances, then part of the experimentation could be a teen pushing against this. (Please know I say this part with no judgement whatsoever for your belief system around substances).


Photo by dole777 on Unsplash

If a teen has a parent  or adults in their world who are using substances recreationally or as a way of coping and living their daily life, it can model particular behaviours for teens.


Social Media.
Teens are constantly exposed to  images and messages around substances  on various social media platforms. Whether that’s prescription medications, vaping, drinking – it’s everywhere. There’s a lot of influence there.

Similar to avoiding the feelings of stress with substances, some teens will experiment as a way to relieve boredom temporarily .

Teens may have an underlying mental health and other condition  that is unmanaged leading them to using substances.

Lack of Information.
Teens may truly not understand the risks and consequences are, how it affects the brain, or what is in certain substances.

Photo by Glenn Carstens on Unsplash

My Teen is Vaping: Educate Yourself and Your Teen

Understanding more about what your teen is experimenting with is important for you, and them. What are they using? What are the impacts? What information or resources are available?

As parents, we need to be informed when our teen is vaping. And in fact our teens can be helpful resources. In conversation with them, we can begin to understand what their peer groups are using, how many of the kids are experimenting, and some of the slang words for things.

It’s also important to gather your own information . You can check out different resources, websites, articles, podcasts, videos and you can even share some of what you learn with your teen. Here are a few resources to get you started:

  • Kids Health
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Ask Alice is a website run by Columbia University health professionals that have brought their information together to answer a lot of health based questions. You can find information about lots of different topics, from sexual health to substance abuse and many other things.
  • Drug Free Kids Canada has many tools available, including how to have a conversation around substance use.

When your teen is vaping, help them find meaning and excitement in other activities in their lives (e.g. a group, club, sport, key friendships, volunteer or community opportunities, new interests, etc.)

You may decide that some external support to communicate with your teen around these issues would be beneficial or that it could be helpful for your teen to have someone to talk to. Reach out and find a therapist who focuses on supporting teens. If you’re wanting to reach out, you can book a free consultation with me here to see if I am a good fit for your teen.


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.