Me and roller coasters don’t get along. I’m closing my eyes and white-knuckling all the way. Once, when our daughter was 14, we had all gone to a theme park and I wanted us to get a charcoal caricature of our family. Rachel got an attitude and refused. We negotiated that I would ride the Rebel Yell roller coaster with her if she would sit for the family picture. “Twice!” she grumbled. Overcoming my terror because the outcome was worth it to me, I agreed.
Is your son or daughter entering the teen years? Hang on. You’re in for an emotional roller coaster ride.
Angst and attitude are part and parcel of teen life. While it seems personal, take heart. It’s not only you, but most everybody who catches teenage heat. For a response, you have several options. “Hold on, buster. This is my house and you will can the attitude!” While this response is in every parent’s mind, keep it there. Don’t let it come out of your mouth. With such a response, you are just trying to match your teen’s power play with your own. You might get compliance, but it would be out of fear and at the expense of relationship.
“What? Is that attitude I hear? Where is that coming from?” is heartfelt and a step in the right direction, but at the risk of your teen feeling shamed. Don’t be surprised if the response is a verbal shut-down or a flippant, “Whatever.”
“Wow! This isn’t like you, son. What else is going on?” is more on track. You are calling attention to his attitude but also recognizing his angst. He may still not want to talk, because of his mistrust and unspoken recognition that he crossed a line. “Why are you trying to be nice to me?” sometimes is the response. Hang in there. He’s slowly cracking the emotional door to see if he wants to let you in.
When teens, and children as well, are given an essay question like “What else is going on here?” they may not have the words or want to answer it. If you get a blank stare or “Leave me alone.” To the essay question, make it a multiple choice question. You know their lives well enough to come up with 3 or 4 options as to what might be fueling his angst. When you get some acknowledgement, shift to active listening. Trying to understand his feelings is at the heart of helping him get through his angst. The good news is that from the angst and attitude of teen life comes the development of an individual identity, your goal for your teen as he prepares for adulthood.