The Traumatic Teen Years

My 13 1/2-year-old daughter does not like school. In fact, in every class where she has a marginal (terrible) grade her teachers have kindly noted that she “does not work to her potential.” It is nice that they have seen her potential, but not one of them has told me how to cultivate a rose from a very thorny plant. She loves to draw and has no trouble motivating herself to follow her creative pursuits, but academics just give her the heebie-jeebies. And I, of course, get the heebie-jeebies whenever I face the council of elders, her academic team leaders, who look at me like I know what to do.

Why do our children's teachers think we know how to get them to do better in school?

This article is all about surviving your child's thorny teenage years with humor and grace. In it you'll learn how to recognize the Dr. Jekyll hidden deep inside when all your teenager is willing to show you is an evil Mr. Hyde.

We all cope differently with teenage troubles. I tend toward the figurative heart attack. My husband, on the other hand, is much more calm about everything. If our daughter isn't keeping up with her homework, I clutch my heart and gasp for air. He sagely observes: “Let her fail the eighth grade. She is the only person who can change her future.”

Needless to say, the gap between our styles on this issue is big enough to drive a truck through. Obviously, we were going to have to find a compromise if we wanted to cope with this early teen crisis. But finding the right way to handle a rebellious teenager is tricky. You never know when what you think is a reasonable solution will trigger a major blowout…as I soon found out with my own newly minted teenager.

A Typical Mom-to-Teen Scenario

In an effort to help my daughter improve her performance at school, I hit upon what I thought was a reasonable plan. On the very first day of winter vacation I decided to take charge by organizing my daughter's time. I laid out a schedule of how she was going to be able to complete her assignments while still having time for fun. It made perfect sense to me. She would do work first, play later. Nothing terrible.

Crashing into Teenage Contrariness

So after taking her to a first-evening-of-vacation movie I told her my expectations. I told her in no uncertain terms that she was going to come to work with me the next day and get started on her homework. She complained and complained that it was her vacation and she was going to have fun. She said she was not going to do the work and I couldn't make her.

I explained firmly that she had too much work to do to wait to the last minute. I took a stern line: “You will be up tomorrow morning and will go with me to the office.” I was so adamant I almost saluted myself. It felt powerful. But then everything took a turn for the worse.

Staying Strong Through the Tears

My daughter knows very well how to push my buttons. She got very upset and said she was planning to do her homework, but just not so soon. Then she escalated her emotionalism into crying mode. Tears have worked against me in the past, but I felt this was too important: I was determined to stand firm. The colder I became the more upset she became until she managed to work herself up into a real rage. She said she was not going to listen to me and that she was going to run away from home. She said she was going to pack her things in a wagon, get a job, and get her own place. My continued refusal to back down finally pushed her over the edge into truly hateful language. Then she stalked off to her room.

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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