Last year your daughter was so sweet. This year, suddenly, she has an “attitude.”
Two months ago your son was your best bud. Now he treats you like you're totally “uncool.”
Welcome to parenting a teenager.
Throw out any of those child-rearing manuals you've used in the past. For this age, you need a whole new perspective. Mark Twain offered one solution: “Put them in a barrel, and nail it shut until they turn nineteen. Only then should you let them out.” Amen!
Here are a few more realistic (and legal) tips that might help you save your sanity and stay connected to your teen:
Know they're a little bit crazy.
If you think you suddenly have an alien in your midst, applaud yourself. You're right. At no other time in your teen's life will his body undergo so many physical, sexual and emotional changes. So now's the time to alter your parenting style.
You've read all those baby books and mastered child development 101. Make sure you read about normal teen development as well.
Use “too” as a worry index.
Your teen will sometimes be moody, defiant, lazy, sleepy, and secretive. But get concerned when he bcomes too moody for too long. Or too defiant for too long. Something else may be contributing to this new behavior (drugs? alcohol? depression?) and it may be time to seek professional help. Go with your instinct.
You're not imagining those mood swings. Your teen's quick-fire emotion switches show up on brain scans. They experience feelings more intensely and often overreact because they think we're upset or angry. Try counting to three before you talk. Stay calm. Lower your voice. Clarify emotions. Or take a time out. Then reconnect. Don't take it personally.
Pick your battles.
Teens will be more defiant and will take issue with things they don't consider fair. They will argue. In a few years, they're going to be out on their own and their need to be independent or at least treated as an adult are paramount.
Choose what is not negotiable.
You don't want to argue every little issue so select those issues you really do care about and won't change. Let minor issues go. For instance, obeying curfew is your major; cleaning her room is your minor.
Empower your teen.
Whenever appropriate (and whenever you're willing to accept his verdict), ask his opinion (i.e., “What should happen if you break curfew?")
Tune up your communication skills.
Whenever a teen starts to talk, stop what you're doing. Use eye contact. It helps your teen know you're focusing on him. (Put the phone on voice mail and forget the laundry.) Don't talk on longer than one minute. Don't stand when you're talking. If there's a void, don't jump in to fill the silence. (Wait three seconds.) Talk to him while he's doing something active. Talk to him when he's not tired. (A teen's least receptive time: first thing in the morning. The second worst time: right after school.) Halt the criticism. (Coming off like a prosecutor is guaranteed to turn off a teen.) Whenever you feel a judgmental comment coming on, replace it with: “Tell me more. What makes you say that?" Count to two before responding. Or just bite your tongue. Talk about your teen's interests. Use technology. (Let her teach you how to text message.)
Don't give up.
If you need to communicate via a white board or post-its, do it! Keep showing up and letting your teen know you're there for him. Remember, in just a few years that teen will be gone.
In my next post, I'll tell you how to respond if your teen gets in your face or says, "I hate you!"
(And let me know what's working for you. Share your ideas.)
Dr. Michele Borba is the author of Nobody Likes Me, Everybody Hates Me: The Top 25 Friendship Problems and How to Solve Them.