Parenting a teenager is no walk in the park.
They are hard-wired to defy, irritate, be irritated,rebel,question, and be dramatic; what better way for a human being to learn how to be authentically who they are, right? As a parent, however, those adolescent behaviors can be frustrating and overwhelming. A key component to working with this behavior is creating good boundaries. Setting really clear boundaries shows teens they are safe.
Here are 5 challenging teen behaviors and suggestions for healthy parenting responses:
1: Oh the Drama! Everyone is horrible and out to get them, life is full of “he said,” “she said” problems and absolute statements like, “Mom! You just don’t UNDERSTAND!”
Parents, this is a great opportunity for mirroring. While you know that the world isn’t out to get your teen, learning how to respond to them kindly is important for their emotional safety. With mirroring, your job is not to analyze or sympathize but to reflect back what was said. In doing so, you are saying to your teen, “I see you,” something teens often don’t feel from adults but desperately need. Being “seen” is something vital to building self-awareness and confidence. They need to know they are being seen and heard without being judged. Here’s an example of mirroring:
Teen: “School was horrible, everyone’s a jerk,”
You: “I hear today was difficult at school.”
In this example, you are actively listening instead of analyzing the problem or trying to fix it. Sometimes, kids just need to vent.
2: “I hate you!” “You’re ruining my life!” “Why don’t you let me do ANYTHING?!”
In adolescence, teens are continuing to individuate. They are trying to find out who they are as individuals — separate from who their parents are. As a result, teens attempt to pull away from the familiarity and safety of their familial setting in order to find their own authenticity, and often times they do this harshly. This is not easy to watch and it is harder still not to take the behavior personally. However, this doesn’t mean parents become doormats for their kids or receptacles for abusive behavior. Create boundaries and disallow abusive language or violent behavior while continuing to support the process of discovering oneself. Your job as the parent is to remain calm amidst the storm: A: adolescence is temporary, and B: your parents survived. Ensure you are getting time for yourself and for self-care. Remember, if you are an empty well for yourself, you are an empty well for your child.
3: Not THAT friend.
Rest assured, there will come a time where you will feel with absolute certainty that one of your teen’s friends is questionable. Before you toss this friend to the wolves, ask yourself why this kid is so triggering for you. Are you reminded of something? Do you see yourself in this child? Are the parents troublesome? Do you have information your child doesn’t have about the family? Understanding why we’re reacting the way we are can be profoundly helpful. It may prevent us from projecting our fears onto the innocent. This also presents an opportunity to open up a dialogue with your teen about safe friends, safe behaviors, as well as to talk about the red flags for dangerous behavior. After that discussion or series of discussions, if a friend is truly dangerous, you have to set firm boundaries. Sometimes arming your teen with knowledge will allow them to see the wolf in sheep’s clothing themselves. However, sometimes, it won’t and it will encourage a teen to rebel further. In this case, you may have to set firmer boundaries or take more drastic measures. You are at the helm of the parenting ship and it remains your responsibility to create and maintain safe boundaries for your teen and your family.
4: “You’re so embarrassing!”
It’s so tempting to hug and show affection to your teen, especially if you come from a family that is demonstrative with their expressions of love. But nothing is more embarrassing to a teen than having their overenthusiastic parent insist upon squishing their son or daughter in front of their friends. In fact, it’s mortifying. So, as much as you hate to do it, try and curb your enthusiasm, at least while you’re in public. The overarching message: love your teen but don’t show it. Ew.
5: “Put the phone DOWN!”
Oh, technology, what would we do without you? Everything has been made so much easier because of the advances in this area, and we are at a place in our culture where we depend upon it for efficiency. As I’ve mentioned in another post, we have unfortunately taken this tool for connection and unfortunately become terribly disconnected. To help families reconnect, I suggest setting some rules aka boundaries around phone use. Limit phone use (texting and calls) until homework is done and ask everyone to turn them off at dinner. Make a commitment to connect in real time, it’s invaluable for opening the heart.
Our teens are growing up and becoming the best humans they can be. Our job as parents is to nurture them into the big shoes of adulthood. We have to do our best not to take their sharp twills to heart, to honor them as individuals, and to provide them with support, boundaries, and encouragement. Parenting teens can be extraordinarily challenging, especially if there is substance abuse or mental illness involved. If the latter is the case, please seek help. You don’t have to trudge the parenting path alone.