Coming to Terms with Your Teen
Dear Dr. Robinson,
My daughter, Carla, just turned 13 years old, and she thinks she’s all that. Making fun of her younger sister. Wanting to hang all over the friends of her 17-year-old brother, whenever they come over. I try to correct her, but it seems as though my words fall on deaf ears. If she gives me another “what…ever,” and eyeroll, I think I’ll scream. Suggestions?
Signed, Overwrought Mom
Yep. You’ve got your hands full. Your three kids are at three different developmental stages. Your younger daughter just wants big sis’s attention and is resisting that sis is growing up. Your oldest son is just trying to live his life, have fun with his buds, and not be otherwise bothered. Middle daughter? She’s wanting to bust out on her own, be accepted by older boys, and emotionally distance herself from you, to find ways to define herself in her world.
Hang in there with her. She won’t tell you, but this is a time where she needs you to be there for her the most. Only correcting her, as you’ve found out, only pushes her further away. While she needs boundaries and discipline, work it into your time with her, without putting her in her place. Her worst fear at her age is being embarrassed. Her greatest desire is being accepted.
So, what to do. First, find time with her alone, outside of your home. She will refuse to help you with the laundry or do other chores without requisite fussing. But, if you make your alone time with her about her, she’ll be more receptive. Increasing the positive interactions with her will reduce the negative ones. Helping her buy and then apply make-up for special occasions is one such option. Asking her opinion about decisions you are making is another. However, in this case, be sure to give her options, either of which are acceptable to you. For example, is you ask, “How about pork chops for dinner?” she will blow you off. If you ask, “Would you rather have pork chops or spaghetti for dinner?” she will give you her opinion.
Second, catcher her being good. If she gives her younger sister the time of day, or even does something fun with her, thank her and tell you how much you appreciate her taking the time. Ask her if she wants to invite several girlfriends over for a popcorn and movie night and give them space to have fun together. When she’s nice and in a good, receptive mood, compliment her.
When she demonstrates an emotional fever, attitude, or is out of sorts, start with active listening. Something like, “Honey, this isn’t like you. What else is going on?” is a good conversation starter, even if what’s going on is so like her. Active listening helps you focus on her feelings, let’s her know you are with her, and gives her opportunity to sort things out for herself.
When she needs boundaries and correction, use “I-messages.” Something like, “Carla, when you yell at your sister to get out of your room and you slam the door behind her, I really worry that you want her out of your life. I’m also fearful that you will tear the door off its hinges. Is there another way we can resolve this?”
An I-message has three parts: an observable behavior, your concrete and specific feelings about that behavior, and a tangible outcome to the event. After you’ve set boundaries and made corrections, switch to active listening to continue calming her down and getting to the “real” issues.
Coming to terms with your teen will test your mettle. It may be the hardest part of parenting, shy of the pain of childbirth. Based on events and interactions, our children decide early on that they either want to be just like us, in personality and behavior, or just opposite of us. Forming an individual identity is the heart of adolescence. Helping your kids through the storms of their lives will give them opportunity to form that which is truly their personal identity, with the good parts from both of their parents.