Adolescence can be a very tough time for both the teen and the parent. I say ‘can be’ because not all teens talk back and slam their bedroom doors. If your teenager does not behave this way, feel fortunate that these ‘emotional thunderstorms’ don’t occur in your home. It may also be possible that your teen just hasn’t reached that point in their development and tough times could still be on the horizon. I urge you NOT to decide your teen’s attitude or challenging behaviours is a result of your lack of parenting skills. You may very well be doing an awesome job as a parent and your teen may STILL behave badly.
The first step for the parent of a teen with attitude is to relax and not take it personally. The next step is try and understand what’s going on with their teen and see their child in a different light. There are many changes going on in a teen’s body and brain that they have no control over. I love how practicing clinical psychologist Anthony Wolf, Ph.D. put it in simple terms; your teenager has basically developed an allergy to you, her parent. In his book Get Out of MY Life, but first could you take me and Cheryl to the mall? (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002) Dr. Wolf had this to say about teens:
All kinds of changes, physical and intellectual, mark adolescence. But the hallmark of adolescence – the transformation that defines this period of life – is a psychological change. It is the adolescent mandate. A new and powerful voice rises inside of children. They must obey this voice and, in doing so, their lives change forever. Simply put, the mandate tells the adolescent to turn away from childhood and childish feelings. Since childhood is marked by the domination by parents, it follows that adolescents must turn away from their parents.
During this time of separation, adolescents are moving physically and emotionally away from parents, gravitating more toward peers. This can introduce even more challenges for you if the peers they are hanging out with have been known to participate in risky behaviours or have taken on attire or appearance that represents a less than desirable lifestyle. Because of the connections they are developing with peers, it’s important to avoid criticising their new friends. Doing so is criticising your own child. If this is your situation, encourage your teen to hang out with these friends under your supervision, in your home. She may resist but do it anyway and without any emotion on your part.
While your teen is establishing boundaries to increase her independence, you’re already difficult job of being her parent gets even more challenging; you must also monitor her activities enough to know where she is going, who she is spending time with, and what activities she is participating in, both off and online. You are responsible for her safety and well being and you can accomplish this goal by spending as much time with her as she will allow and engaging her in conversations on her better days; moments when her allergy to you seems to be at its lowest level of influence.
To those who take the stance that we must trust our teenagers and provide them with privacy, I say ‘yes, but to an extent.’ Trust must be earned and is not an automatic right. Slowly give your teens small amounts of room to demonstrate trust through their ability to follow through on agreements and use of the internet. Know that eventually your child will transform into a young adult and once again, you’ll feel love from her but in a much different way, a more fulfilling way.