Lisa Damour on the value of "potted plant parents" for teens

"Potted plant parents"

In her new article for the New York Times website, psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour writes about the link between teenagers and parental presence, and it could come as a surprise to many parents.

“Many parents feel that their adolescents hardly need them anymore,” Damour writes in the article called “What Do Teenagers Want? Potted Plant Parents.” But that perception is wrong, Damour said. Teens actually “wish their parents were around more often.”

According to Damour, parental presence actually comes with health benefits for teens, including lower levels of depression, higher school functioning, lower risk behaviors and better peer relationships.

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“One of the really interesting things in the data is they separate out parental presence from warmth and connectedness in the families, and even if the warmth and connectedness isn’t strong, the presence in and of itself is valuable for teenagers,” Damour told “CBS This Morning” Wednesday. 

An Australian research on “fly-in, fly-out” parents – with extended absences from home due to work – offers some reassuring news for working parents. While the study found teens who experienced long work absence of a parent experienced more stress, it also found teens still felt their parents’ presence.

“And so I think the point here really is families do the best they can with the options they’ve got, but mostly, what we want do is reassure parents that you just being around is enough,” Damour said. “Often we feel like we’ve got to interact, we’ve got to have a conversation, and that’s not necessarily what the data show.”

That’s the meaning behind “potted plant parents.” Whether it’s folding your laundry as your teens watch TV or doing work as your teen is doing homework in the same room, Damour said simply being there matters. 

“I think we can underestimate the value of just being around without an agenda,” Damour said. “So many adults, when they’re with teenagers, they’re bringing an agenda.”

Damour also gave possible reasons for why teenagers, and assured parents that it is okay. 

“I think the normal development is, it’s the teen’s job to pull away and it’s the parent’s job to pull back. The other reason honestly, is that they get wise to us,” Damour said, laughing. “And what we want to do in that context is for home to be a secure base that they can explore the world and move away and come back and know that parents are available if needed.”