Everyday Parenting Ideas: 6 Tips for Surviving Teen Angst
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished by how much he’d learned in seven years.”―Mark Twain
Few parents would say they have launched a child into adulthood without hearing the dreaded, “I hate you!” in the throes of a heated exchange with a red-faced, fist-clenched adolescent. For parents who haven’t heard it, they have almost certainly felt it through a seething glare or the rock-solid freeze of a cold-shoulder.
This stage of adolescence (and yes, it’s generally a stage) can make parents feel unfit, unqualified, and unsteady. The parenting strategies you thought were good and right feel like they’re not working. It’s kind of like putting in the ingredients for a chocolate cake, but pulling out a cherry pie. What’s a parent to do?
• Tip #1: Breathe. Literally. If you are feeling really disconnected from your teen, you are likely feeling some pretty strong feelings yourself. Concentrated breaths help calm the body’s fight or flight response, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and restore reason. Breathing before responding is a good thing to model for your teen. It might feel strange at first, but keep practicing. For breathing tips, read Michele Timmons’ article,Sanity Saving Tips for Crazy Busy Moms on the ParentFurther blog.
• Tip #2: Resist the temptation to climb into the sandbox with your child. “Oh yeah, well right back at ya!” may provide a temporary relief, and a way to vent your frustration, but it will not help the situation and may push your teen even further away. It’s difficult, but your teen needs you to show that you can remain calm, even when tension levels are high.
• Tip #3: Get to know the teenage brain. It can help you gain perspective to know that your teen’s prefrontal cortex (the reasoning part of the brain) is in a bit of a stall mode right now, which is part of why you’re seeing a temporary increase in emotional response and a decrease in common sense. A great resource for learning about your teen’s developing brain is Dr. David Walsh’s book, Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen. A firm grip on teen development can serve as part of the antidote for when you’re asking yourself, what am I doing wrong? You’re probably doing a lot of things right. You just can’t see the results yet.
• Tip #4: Try not to take what feels insulting and hurtful personally. This is much easier said than done, of course, but remember that when you hear or feel “I hate you,” what your teen really means is “I hate that I’m grounded” or “I hate that I can’t use the computer for a week”. You are merely the lightening rod for all things sad, bad, and undesirable in your child’s life right now. But rest assured – your child still loves you and is watching and listening to everything you say and do.
• Tip #5: Exercise empathy. Being the parent of a teen can be tough, but being a teen is hard too. Most of us can recall times from our youth when we were on less than ideal terms with our own parents. Tap into those memories and talk to your child about how you remember feeling back then. A little acknowledgement, “I can tell you’re really disappointed” and empathy, “I remember feeling misunderstood by my parents”, can go a long way in the fence mending process.
• Tip #6: Connect where you can. Watch and wait for moments of calm—in the car time, mealtime, the end of the day – and make yourself fully present for your child. Listen without editing or fixing. Get out some old family photos or videos that will make both of you laugh and remind you that there have been (and will be) more harmonious times. Use written words to communicate where spoken words fall short – an encouraging text or a note on the pillow. Your teen may be very prickly right now, but don’t let that stop you from showing your softer side.