Enlivening Ourselves

Dear Dr. Norquist:

   My sister is having a difficult time with her teenage daughter right now. I was never able to have children of my own and I have been very close to my niece from the time she was born. I live in the next town over, so I have been able to see her frequently. I feel like I’m in a position to help her out now – to be a trusted adult that she can turn to when she doesn’t feel comfortable turning to her mother.

   I think my sister would appreciate my support in this regard right now. She is sometimes at her wits end, although it’s just the usual mother – teenager daughter angst as far as I can tell. Could you give me some advice regarding reaching out to my niece and supporting her during these teenage years? She is currently 16 and in the 10th grade.


Dr. Norquist responds:

   How wonderful for your niece to have an aunt like you in her life! The teenage years are defined by change, confusion and the loss of a consistent sense of identity. Teens try on different roles, experiences and identities as they search for a stable island upon which they can build a genuine sense of identity. Many stay adrift for years, uncertain of who they really are. They long for the freedom that adulthood carries and are sure they are mature enough for adult privileges. This can be a dangerous place if the adults in their lives are not providing safe boundaries and limits.

   Mature judgment takes years to develop. Teenagers are generally doing what they are supposed to be doing – cracking the shell, feeling their wings and engaging in some test flights. Parents of teenagers experience great angst, anger, sadness, helplessness, fear, and sometimes joy and exhilaration as the protective shell they have been maintaining is cracked and broken and the emerging soul readies itself to fly away. Having a trusted, consistent adult to turn to for support during this process would be blessing for all. Her parents cannot provide this because they are part of the protective shell that she needs to crack in order to establish her own separate identity.

   Aim to be her ally. Support her in discovering what she longs for, what she would treasure. Help her to discover her own goals and the plan for getting there. She has her own path to follow, and receiving support in discovering it could be life changing. It would give her something to hold on to in the ever-changing turbulent waters of adolescence. Accept her for who she is, without judgments, as this will accelerate her discoveries regarding who she is and what she wants.

   Strong trusting relationships are built over time and require consistency – not only emotionally but also in time you spend together. See if you can set up a regular time to be together. Take her to dinner, for coffee, shopping or to pursue joint activities or projects. Find out what she needs or likes to do that is amenable to adult company. This could become a life changing relationship for both of you!


(Dr. Sallie Norquist is a licensed psychologist (NJ #2371) in private practice and is director of Chaitanya Counseling Services, a center for upliftment and enlivenment, in Hoboken.) Dr. Norquist and the staff of Chaitanya invite you to write them at Chaitanya Counseling Services, 51 Newark St., Suite 202, Hoboken, NJ 07030 or www.chaitanya.com or by e-mail at drnorquist@chaitanya.com, or by fax at (201) 656-4700. Questions can address various topics, including relationships, life’s stresses, difficulties, mysteries and dilemmas, as well as questions related to managing stress or alternative ways of understanding health-related concerns.Ó 2016 Chaitanya Counseling Services

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