By Michele Borba
Last year your daughter was so sweet, 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 the world of parenting a teenager. Throw out any of those child-rearing manuals you’ve used in the past. To survive this age group and come out sane you need a whole new parenting perspective. Mark Twain offered one of most ingenious solutions: “Put them in a barrel,” he said, then and nail it shut until they turn nineteen. Only then should you let them out.” Here are a few more realistic (and legal) tips from my book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries that might help you save your sanity and stay connected with your teen. The last tip is critical: It will tell you when to know your teen’s behavior is not typical and you should worry and seek help.
1. Know teens are a little bit crazy. If you think you suddenly have an alien in your midst, applaud yourself. You right. At no other time in your teen’s life will his body be undergoing so many physical, sexual and emotional changes. And you’re not imagining that those mood swings: Your teen’s quick-fire emotion switches show up on brain scans. So a big parenting solution is to alter your parenting response to this new kid you have on your hands.
2. Get educated! You’ve read all those baby books and mastered child development 101. Make sure you know about normal teen development as well. The more you understand typical adolescent behavior, the better you’ll be at tailoring your parenting to this “new tenant” of yours. My favorite two books in the teen category are: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager, REvised and Updated by Anthony E. Wolf Ph.D., and Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind, by Michael Bradley.
3. Don’t overreact. Teens experience feelings more intensely and often overreact because they think we’re upset or angry. So trying counting to three (at least) before talking to a moody or defiant teen. Stay calm. Lower your voice. Clarify emotions: “Are you thinking I’m mad because I’m not.” Or take a time out: “I need a moment to get it together.”
4. Don’t take it personally. 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. Once the tsunami is over and the waves are calm, do try and reconnect with your teen. Forgive and forget. Move on!
5. Empower your teen. Whenever appropriate (and whenever you’re willing to accept his verdict), ask his opinion. “Where should be the rules for the car?” “What should be the consequence if you break curfew?”
6. Pick your battles carefully. Choose what is not negotiable. You don’t want to argue every little issue, so select issues you really do care about and won’t deviate from. Then let those other more minor issues go. For instance, my girlfriend finally decided to forego trying to get her son to clean up his room because it caused too much friction between them. Once she did she discovered half the battles stopped but she stood her ground on curfew. Figure out what really matters and stay true to those issues. For instance: Obeying curfew is your major; cleaning her room is your minor. Read: Stop Negotiating With Your Teen: Strategies for Parenting Your Angry, Manipulative, Moody or Depressed Adolescent, by Janet Sasson Edgette.
7. Find a common connector–anything! Finding ways to stay connected and involved in your teen’s life is your goal. If your son loves to work out, go to a gym with him. If your daughter wants to learn to cook, review cookbooks together. If she pulls away from you and wants to only be with her friends (that’s normal!), what about starting a Mother-Daughter book club with her best friends and a few moms? National surveys say our teens do want us in their lives and need our guidance. The key is to find the balance between being too involved and backing away too much. Read: Staying Connected to Your Teenager: How to Keep Them Talking to You and How to Hear What They’re Really Saying, by Michael Riera.
8. Use “too” as your worry index for when you should worry. Your teen will sometimes be moody, defiant, lazy, sleepy, and secretive. And those behaviors are to be expected. But when do you worry that your adolescent’s behavior is more than just raging hormones? Here’s the formula I tell parents to use:
- Identify your teen’s normal. Tune in and watch a bit closer until you can get a pulse on what’s typical for your teen.
- Expect some behavioral changes. Hormones, cognitive changes, normal teen angst, school stress, worrying about the future, body image, peer pressure are just a few factors that affect your adolescent on or daughter.
- Worry when “too” comes into the mix. When you recognize that your teen is too moody or too defiant or too unfocused (etc) for his normal self. And that atypical change lasts too long. Something else may be contributing to this new behavior (drugs? alcohol? depression?) and it may be time to seek professional help.
- Use your gut instinct. No one (no one!) knows your teen better than you. So when in doubt, get help. Call a medical doctor to screen your teen for possible depression (1 in 12 teens will have a serious episode of depression this year!) Irritability, loss of interest, and depressed mood that lasts everyday for two weeks are signs of depression. Sixty percent of depressed teens are not diagnoses or receiving treatment. Do not wait. Consequences can be serious.
If things do get to the point where you have an out-of-control teen on your hands who you can no longer parent effectiveness, then you need to specific help. Do not wait. If you are considering residential treatment, please read, Wit’s End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen, by Sue Scheff for helpful hints or visit www.helpyourteens.com.
For daily parenting solutions follow Michele on twitter @micheleborba