By: Sandra Egan
Although it has been awhile since I’ve posted anything about the art of discipline, I thought it might be time to begin on the subject of teenagers. I’ve labeled this post as part one, but I don’t know how many parts this section will eventually include. Although I have worked with teenagers professionally for years, I have been the mother of a teenager for only two. Therefore, I do not claim to be any type of authority on the subject of teenagers. I’m just giving advice on what I have learned so far.
First, a mom must understand that being a teenager doesn’t always start at 13. Some children begin “teenagerhood” earlier and some later. Signs of “teenagerhood” may be physical evidence of puberty, sudden interest in personal appearance, and looking at you, as a parent, as an unending source of embarrassment. All of these are good signs that your child is becoming a teenager. However, it doesn’t really start until your child goes to bed one night as the wonderful child you know and love and wakes up acting as if you are their worst enemy. You get a blank look when you tell them it is time to get up for school. When they get home, you get little to no information about how their school day went. They constantly talk to their friends, whether through Facebook or texting, and laugh at things that friends say. They seem to get along famously with 500 or so acquaintances, but can’t tolerate their sibling(s) for more than 5 minutes. They go from laughing hysterically to the depths of depression. There really isn’t any connection or logic attached to either. Your attempts to help them are useless because you operate on logic. Their lives are destroyed because they don’t have the latest whatdoyoucallit from the mall that everyone else has except them, and they resent how deprived they are. All of this can be thrown at you within the space of 5 minutes. Congratulations, you now have a teenager.
How does a mother cope with the teenager? First, you may read the description above and realize that the behavior I described would be considered crazy behavior if the person is not a teenager. The wild ups and downs, the sudden switches in mood and attitude, and the spurning of the loved ones would ordinarily be followed up by visits to a therapist, job loss and interventions by concerned family and friends. It is important that as a parent, you understand and cope with the fact that these behaviors exhibited by your teenager are normal. In a roundabout way, this may seem like I am telling you that your teenager is basically a crazy person. In essence, this is pretty much true – although it’s only temporary.
I remember reading a study some time ago that compares the brain scans of teenagers to the brain scans of people with bipolar disorder. The two groups were similar, which basically shows that the teenage brain is going through a rollercoaster ride. Even though your teenager may find you responsible for all the misery in his or her life, keep in mind that it is NOT you. I repeat: It isn’t you. It’s them. When professionals talk to a patient, remember that they remain calm and logical, even when their patient is hysterical and abusive. You need to be calm and somewhat detached from any conflict, because you must remember that you are still the same steady, loving parent you have always been and that it is the teenager that is reacting to the conflict. Don’t take it personally. Be cool, don’t let them suck you into the emotional vortex. This will be very tough at times, because your kid knows you and probably knows what bothers you most. Sometimes they just want to provoke you into having a fight because they need the release. Stay the course. Remember that you are the sane one.
This is end of part one. Next, I will discuss how to handle unavoidable conflicts and how to give your teenager consequences that may actually make a difference.