The Traumatic Teen Years

Womanly Wisdom

With a teenager it is best to hang on loosely but not let go.

Mom Alert!

Don't take your teenager's behavior personally. It really is usually just a stage. If you can't find a way to look past the bad behavior to the good child within, your relationship can suffer serious long-term damage.

Changing Your Mothering Style to Suit Your Teenager

Your child is having a difficult time learning to make the transition to adulthood. And you also, no doubt, are finding these years difficult. Your old ways of relating to your child are no longer appropriate—the old days when your child thought you knew everything there was to know are long past. And while you still want very much to actively guide and protect your child, such behavior comes across as controlling, not as helpful.

So what's a teenager's mom to do? She does what she has done with every other new stage in her child's developmental life: she reevaluates her style to find one that suits her child's current needs.

Being mother to a teenager means you constantly alternate between being pushed away and pulled back. Your child wants the chance to make his own decisions—and his own mistakes—but he's not ready to be pushed completely out of the nest just yet. He can indeed be a sweet and caring Dr. Jekyll one minute, and then in the next he can turn into a raging Mr. Hyde, convincing you that he's truly demon spawn. It's an emotional roller coaster ride—so hang on tight!

The Two Faces of Teendom

Much of what you see as your teen's bad behavior is really her perfectly normal response to the imperative of growing up: She's just trying to break away and assume her own adult identity. But, because she's a teen, she is ill equipped to manage this change without major drama.

Your Teen at Home: Rampage and Rejection

Teenagers are notorious for rejecting their mothers. They are also well-versed in the art of manipulation—mostly by using the threat of this rejection to get their way. The techniques we used so successfully to soothe and comfort our children when they were young just can't stand up to the constant challenge that teenagers seem to thrive on. This new teenage person in the household sometimes seems to have declared war—and we lack suitable weapons with which to defend ourselves. But never fear—there are strategies that you can use to survive these difficult years:

  • Have attitude. Know you are a good mother, and don't be convinced otherwise.
  • Remember to be a parent. Teenagers still need mothering.
  • Reassure yourself that your teenager does not really hate you.
  • Don't overcontrol or under-care.
  • Reward yourself in special ways and pray for continued endurance.
Womanly Wisdom

Adolescence is a time of great insecurity for your child. It's easy to bruise his fragile sense of self. Whenever possible, then, let your child set the pace for trading confidences. If you come across as prying, he'll just clam up on you anyway.

Surviving Teendom, by the Numbers

Step one in surviving your child's teenage years is to have attitude. This means you know you are a good mother and no amount of harassment from your teenager is going to convince you otherwise.

Step two is to remember that you're still a parent. Don't stop mothering your teenager just because he or she have begun to closely resemble adults, only goofier.

It's easy to forget that your teenager is still a kid, when so many of the things he does seem so adult. We rely on teenagers to take adult responsibilities such as baby-sitting their younger siblings; we allow them freedom to hang with their friends; we let them get a driver's license; and some of them even hold down a paying job. But with all this adult-seeming behavior, they still need the support—and the limits—a mother can provide.

Step three is to reassure yourself that your child does not really hate you, no matter how rebellious he or she may seem at times. Your child will most likely say and do things that make you feel rejected, and you may find it hard not to take them personally.

But the extreme behavior and language stem from the teens' sense of powerless: They are too old to be treated as children and yet too young for all the privileges of adulthood. This can be very frustrating, and often the target of that frustration is Mom. You do not need to become anyone's whipping girl, but you do not want to overreact to your teen's challenges, either. Give your teenager enough space to work through his own temporary demon-possession, and keep your feelings safely out of the way.

To put this another way, when a teenager lashes out it is not typically as personal as it seems—it is really business. Your teenager is trying to break out of a highly entrenched protected environment. He is seeking the self-confidence to succeed in the world without external protection. You can compare the teenage years to the labor pains experienced before a baby is thrust into the world. The teenager is getting ready for a rebirth into adulthood, and no matter how willing he seems, he will go out kicking and screaming until he can adjust to his new environment.

So, as your teenager pushes you to the limits of your endurance, work with him as much as possible. If you can communicate during those rare moments of equilibrium (even teenagers do have them) open your heart and explain that you understand what he or she is going through. Fill your teenager with positive, supportive messages so that he remembers he can turn to you in a time of crisis.

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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