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parenting teens

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Why some parents' misunderstanding of 'soiling the nest' could be excusing unacceptable behavior

Late teen years can be hard, but some parents are excusing extreme bad behavior as a developmental stage.

Misunderstanding 'soiling the nest' could be excusing bad behaviors.

If you have older teens and frequent mom groups, you've probably heard of the term "soiling the nest." Sure, there may be plenty of parents who don't know the term, but as someone who belongs to a few social media groups geared toward parents of teens and young adults, I can assure you a lot of parents know it and are misusing it to explain some really poor behaviors.

So what is "soiling the nest"? It's a term used in psychology and child development that encompasses the stage between the last few months of high school and heading off to college. Teens tend to become moodier, more distant and quite frankly, they get on your nerves.

Lots of big life changes are coming up, so they're stressed, nervous and overwhelmed about leaving home. To make the transition a bit easier, they start pushing away from their family unit so as to not miss them as much.


During this stage, it seems like those early teen "I know everything" attitudes return along with those puberty-related mood swings. But it's not a second puberty; it's simply an uncomfortable stage that kids about to head out the door of childhood go through.

Except, not all behaviors indicate soiling the nest. I've seen this term misused both as a licensed therapist and as a mom of teens and a young adult. It can be hard not to chime in every time I observe well-meaning parents explaining away someone else's child's disrespectful and sometimes dangerous behavior.

Behaviors like cussing parents out, extreme anger outbursts, not coming home at night or blocking your phone calls are not really soiling the nest behaviors. Suddenly using drugs, drinking excessively and being verbally or physically abusive are also not behaviors that are "normal," though time and time again, they're being dismissed as this psychological term and parents are being told to let some of these concerning behaviors slide.

But if the behaviors that are being lumped into this developmental stage aren't soiling the nest, then how did it get misunderstood? It comes back to "therapy speak" being popularized by social media and it being used incorrectly repeatedly, which in this case, may have some parents missing mental health concerns. Or at the very least, accepting unacceptable behavior which will, in turn, encourage their own children to treat them poorly.

House rules and respectful behavior don't simply go out the window when a child is preparing to leave for college. Things like teens spending more time with friends and trying to push their curfew, or parents noticing that it's 10 p.m. and their teen still hasn't fed the cats, but when reminded they respond with, "I know. I was going to, you don't have to remind me"? Those scenarios are soiling the nest. Late teens can be sassy, moody, and hang out until they're within 30 seconds of their curfew every day. They suddenly know everything they need to know about college, life and being an adult and roll their eyes any time you try to impart wisdom.

Soiling the nest is absolutely a normal developmental stage, but behaviors that swing to the extreme end of the spectrum aren't.