It ain't pretty, and it puts a wedge in the relationship. (Part 3 of 4)
When you love someone, it hurts when they ignore you, speak poorly about you or simply let you know in no uncertain terms that they would rather you weren’t around.
Parents get a lot of that from kids during their teen years. It’s easy to take it personally and feel like you’ve lost your loving, cuddly child to gnarly, stinky adolescence.
In addition, those newly gnarly, stinky teens do some crazy things. They get involved with people they shouldn’t, make stupid mistakes and generally act like they’re immature teenagers who haven’t developed their prefrontal cortexes yet…
Oh, wait! They are immature teenagers who haven’t developed their prefrontal cortexes yet!
With this in mind, it’s imperative that parents don’t overreact to their teens’ behavior.
Here are some thoughts from my book Parenting from the Periphery:
When a child does something impulsive, risky, or acts without thinking, do you blow up? Ground them? Give them a lecture? Do you overreact to a situation that doesn’t warrant such an overreaction?
As an adult, you have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. You don’t need to respond with wild overreaction. In other words, don’t be surprised when your child does something completely idiotic; don’t get upset. This is the power of the wild and beautiful adaptations working in their bodies that they have no control over. The hormones will lead to actions that defy logic.
If you do overreact, what does this teach the child who has just done something they know is dumb and that they’re ashamed of?
It basically teaches them to try to be more secretive next time, so the parent doesn’t have a conniption!
If parents respond with measured, thoughtful and even sympathetic words, children learn that it’s safe to share their failures with their parents and that it may even be possible to glean insight from the parents into what is going on in their crazy lives.
Let’s take a simple example: driving. Most parents have the experience of teaching their child to drive. Kids become good drivers much faster if they’re taught by calm adults sitting in the passenger seat as they run over curbs, drive too close to the edge of the road or hit speed bumps too hard. If the parent is constantly clutching the side handgrip as if their life depended on it or yelling at the child whenever he or she makes a little mistake, the child absorbs that tension and has a hard time learning to relax.
And then the child gets his or her license and ends up scraping the entire length of the car on a bicycle bollard while driving up a narrow pedestrian alley late at night because his buddy dared him to...
“What were you thinking? Why were you driving on a pedestrian pathway?!!! Do you have a brain?!!”
Oops. That is not the right way to respond.
“So... I’m glad you’re okay. The pedestrians are okay, right? No damage to the bollard? I guess you have to think about how you’re going to pay for the repairs and the ticket the policeman gave you; what do you think?”
This kind of response invites the child to participate in dealing with the consequences of his or her actions. This kind of thinking helps the child develop the prefrontal cortex (which is the goal, by the way) and hopefully makes him or her think twice before accepting a friend’s dare next time.
So talking with your teens as though they were already adults and being careful not to overreact to the antics that will undoubtedly occur due to the stage of life they’re in will go a long way toward making your child receptive to your input and making them willing to share with you.
This isn't easy, of course. The temptation is to blow up. Or get hurt by your teen's complacency toward you. Or to get frustrated and try to get back at your teen who is continually leaving stuff all over the house. Or...well, you get it.
But learning to catch yourself, take a deep breath and then proceed, talking with your teens as the adults you hope for them to become will greatly improve your relationship with them. And, again, the ripple effect of this is huge. It contributes to the overall balance of good in our world, not just in the present, but in the future as your kids become healthy, well-balanced and contributive adults.
One more idea can potentially transform how your teen responds to you as the parent during this amazing time of development and turmoil. I’ll talk about that in the next post, my final post in this series.
Here are the first two posts: