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    In our house, we are in the middle-to-end of our second adolescent cocooning, the period of time when kids seem to lose their enthusiasm and the desire to leave their room. They huddle in, listen to music, play video games, can seem apathetic towards activities they used to love, and may struggle with even the oldest of friendships. This is also a period in which parents tend to worry and struggle with how to respond.

    As kids shift into adolescence, they are grappling with who they are in relationship to the things they like and the things they can do. Before this, kids identify themselves mainly with their industry- their physical capabilities and achievements. Now, they become more concerned with what they know, feel, and believe. They are questioning what skills and strengths they have and if those things still have meaning to the person they want to be. They are very aware of their perceived weaknesses and will test them often to see where the boundary is. Their bodies are changing quickly and they often feel insecure about how well they can do activities they once loved, may feel uncomfortable or awkward in how their body feels when doing anything physical, or may feel disconnected from their old interests entirely.  On the outside it looks like they are losing interest in people and activities that at one time they couldn’t get enough of. The hormonal surges they are getting at the same time can cause havoc on their emotions, on their ability to consistently display logic or reason, and on their auditory and verbal processing. This hormonal chaos can often make them quick to react, and slower to understanding and reconciliation or restitution. They may have to start over on anything and everything, quite a few times. Often, all of this results in a cocooning phase, where they need to do less, sleep a lot,  and often be alone more in order to process.

    The easy metaphor is to liken this process to a caterpillar, but it would indeed be an appropriate one. The desire to be alone means accepting the journey and processing the hard parts of the transformation. The more painful parts of adolescence – the growing and changing of mind, body, and spirit- are best done in a comforting place of familiarity and protection. It is human nature to withdraw and seek solitude in our roughest moments. But in doing so, we often find ourselves, and are transformed. If we, as parents, are part of that cocoon, surrounding and honoring the process, then we are also part of what allows the wings to grow and gives the teen the confidence to emerge when they are ready.

    We’ve been through cocooning two times now and the things that were most helpful are rooted in a deep respect for the process. If you are observant, you can see small moments of cocooning in younger children, especially when they hit major developmental stages. You can begin now, respecting when your kid asks to be alone and helping them to find the words about what they are feeling and when they need help processing those feelings. Just naming the experience is incredibly validating, and supports kids in developing their emotional intelligence about themselves and others. Punishing children for emotions and reactions they don’t have the ability to control yet is counterproductive to building a relationship of open communication and trust. The more children feel comfortable confiding in you at 3 and 7 and 9, the more likely it is they will stay open to conversation at 15 and beyond.

    Teens require more time and space on their own as they begin to build who they want to be as young adults, but there are some things we have done to support the process:

    • Put a mix of new and familiar people and activities in their path to help them engage and stay the course. These experiences are like a choose-your-own-adventure book, in that every one of those moments is an opportunity for choice in what they want to keep in their life and what they want to shed.
    • Provide mentors who are not you and are young enough to remember what it’s like, still idealistic, but old enough to guide. Think early to mid twenties. It doesn’t matter if it’s through sports, or a class, or a wilderness survival/rites of passage backpacking trip. This kind of mentorship can be essential in creating a safe space to talk about hard things and encouraging healthy risk taking and growth.
    • Give them as much power in their education as you can. If they haven’t been taking an active role in the planning and pursuit of their own passions and interests up until this point, the moment is now. Depending on the educational path you’ve chosen, this may look different in every family, but project based learning is a great way to keep a cocooning teen in charge, focused, engaged, and has the potential to make an impact, not just on them, but in a larger community sense as well. Stay the course as your teen’s mentor, strew new ideas and information in front of them, and help them to create an education that is just as much about who they are right now as who they want to be.
    • Accept that as they emerge they may want to find new people or activities to support the identity they are creating, and let them try it all on. We learn to make good decisions by making decisions, and sometimes we need to try on a lot of hats before we find the ones that are ours.
    • Trust your kid. Everything you have done for them up until this point is in them. Their core values are based in those experiences and that unconditional love. They will be fine.

    The important thing to remember is that it passes. For some kids it’s quick, and others it takes a few years. For my older son, it started when he was around twelve until he was fourteen. My second son started his cocooning just before turning twelve and is almost thirteen, but seems to be emerging sooner than his brother did. In part, it is just who he is, but I think what we learned from the first time around served us well. We still have a few years before my daughter reaches this developmental stage, but I feel as ready as I can be to support her through this journey. The truth is, it’s a magnificent metamorphosis. The first glimpse of who my teens will be as an adult reminds me of when they were babies and they hit that 8 month-ish stage where they started to develop their personality. It’s just that momentous and we should approach it with just as much love and compassion. In fact, it’s even better. Teens are passionate, interesting, funny, AND I’m getting way more sleep now.