Separating from parents to grow up: what margin for teens in a connected world?


If the ways of becoming an adult are never exactly the same from one society to another, there are nonetheless some invariants. Separation experiences are one of the essentials of the human condition  : to succeed as adults, children must face situations in which they no longer evolve under the protective gaze of their parents. In contemporary societies, separation is experienced when attending school, sharing activities with peers, time spent with grandparents, summer camps, evenings with friends …

These experiences are closely linked to the emergence of a personalized schedule for the teenager, which gradually becomes out of sync with the rhythm of his parents’ life. And these times are conducive to empowerment: because they have to rely on “external” resources, no longer being able to count on the benevolent help of their family in ad hoc contexts, children becoming adolescents find themselves in need of help. more and more often in situations where it is peers or other adults who offer him new alliances and other ways of seeing the world. They more often rely on their own judgment to make choices, weighing their advantages and disadvantages in the light of diverse opinions.

So family detachment does not herald a break-up of the teenager with regard to his parents but at the same time physical and symbolic distancing , which are the prerequisites for a renewal of the relationship with his father and his mother. . The child remains the child of his parents, but the latter must now deal with their new role: to be the parent of a teenager.

“Connection pact”

For a long time, empowerment was experienced through the obviousness of those moments when, sooner or later, the adolescent found himself outside the perimeter watched by his parents. The simple fact of leaving, of leaving them “physically” forced them to experience separation, and to live situations during which he was led to exist differently in the eyes of others, to no longer simply play the role of a child, but also student, friend or girlfriend, boyfriend or girlfriend.

Interacting in other places, with other people, implied by definition to interact without the presence of the parents. A trip could turn into a real test of withdrawal, and the journey to school, as Françoise Dolto underlined in her time , was a moment of experimentation conducive to empowerment.

The connected world has made this evidence disappear, to the point of significantly affecting what, until yesterday, was the privileged way of gaining autonomy. Because it is possible to move away physically, while feeling the possibility of reactivating the link despite the distance, spaces of empowerment are now subject to new standards. It is no longer distance in space that governs the experience of separation, but the pact of connection that indicates its quality.

This expression of “connection pact” designates the more or less explicit contract that each individual enters into with the members of his social environment, a contract which specifies the frequency of exchanges as well as the expected time to respond to a message or a call. “Connection pacts” are thus very different from one relationship to another. In some cases, a response in a few seconds will be expected while, for another person, this “reasonable” period may extend over a few days. The “connection pact” reminds us that a standard is established according to the specific relationship to the other. In this sense, each connection pact has something to say about each of our relationships.

The “connection pact” interferes in the relationship between parents and their children, and significantly affects the investment in spaces of empowerment. Because this pact induces a standard for the frequency of exchanges and the response time, parents find themselves symbolically present in spaces from which they were formerly excluded. Thus young people tell us, as part of our research, the texts to which they must respond as soon as they leave class, the messages they send to avoid being called when they meet with their friends, sometimes at times. privacy. Still others tell us the importance of these expected moments of the swimming pool or the shower because they temporarily suspend the injunction to respond, or, at least, to be potentially reachable …

Resist the temptation to communicate?

Thus what the sociologist Francis Jauréguiberry observed several years ago about senior executives is now verified among the youngest of our societies: to access the benefits of their free time and to escape the presence of absent persons, an effort is necessary. , resistance must be opposed to the temptation to reconnect, to return to the other, to meet, again, their expectations.

In this context is growing the inequality which separates, on the one hand, those whose relatively controlled use of digital tools makes it possible to materialize their independence by resisting solicitations and, on the other hand, the others who, at On the contrary, do not manage to impose themselves, perceiving in their spontaneous response, in the urgency, the sign of their own incapacity to manage their existence.

The temptation can be great for some to come back, with a single click, to these people whose presence is heartwarming. Thus, when a teenager finds himself separated from his parents, not only does he sometimes have to refuse to respond urgently to their request to prove to himself that he is independent. At times, it is he himself who comes back to them, failing to be able to turn to others.

In other words, it’s not uncommon for a teenager who finds himself home alone to phone his parents to ask a question whose answer will reassure him. It is no longer rare for a teenager who finds himself far from home to call mother and father to be reassured, to get help, to remember that the link can be reactivated despite the distance. Thus separation from parents is no longer carried out under the sign of the lack with which the individual has to deal, but under the sign of the capacity to resist the temptation to come back to them.

It is not a question of suffering the lack, but of accepting to live it fully even if it is possible to mitigate the effects. If living the separation cannot be lived as it used to be, separating involves additional work, the need to escape the possibilities of being reachable. Few are the moments now that ensure silence and meditation. Rare, but precious, have become those times during which, not only can others no longer reach the individual, but especially during which the individual no longer has to make the effort to resist .

While it is no longer easy to fully experience the times of separation in order to benefit from its potential in terms of empowerment, it is hardly easier to separate in order to recollect. Yet another effort to be made, again and again, is added to the long list of injunctions which weigh on the individual when he becomes an adult.

Author Bio: Jocelyn Lachance is Lecturer-researcher in sociology at the University of Pau and the Adour countries