The Traumatic Teen Years

Mom Alert!

Overreacting to your teen's bad behavior can easily trigger a blowup. Don't take it so seriously: It is just your child's way of hanging onto being a child while he or she is trying to become an adult. By driving you crazy your child is actually demanding a connection with you even though it is through negative attention.

A Visit from Dr. Jekyll

You may be surprised how well your teenage monster behaves outside your den. When a teenager is at home, he or she will revert to behavior that you will likely find unpleasant at best—you can only pray it's reserved for you and not shared with the populace at large.

When your child is out of the house you may hear stories or rumors about this responsible, really cool kid—and you'll gasp in amazement when you hear it's your very own homegrown monster. Do not be surprised if the rumors turn out to be true. Of course, sometimes your little monster may be a teenage scourge both inside and outside your home. Do the best you can to maintain limits, but realize your child is making choices for which there are personal consequences. You are not responsible or to blame for every choice your child makes. Sometimes, even though you guide your child perfectly, he will still take the path of most resistance.

Respecting Your Teen's Cool

Don't disregard your need to be a mother to your teenager. By now you know it isn't cool to show too much mothering in front of your child's friends. My son has not allowed any public displays of affection within one mile of his school since he was seven years old. But there are still many ways you can connect to your child without having to baby him. Now, the biggest exception to this rule arises when your teenager is ill. If your child has a cold or the flu it is perfectly fine to indulge him or her with the works. Just don't let on that you are actually fulfilling the call of your chicken-soup gene.

Building a New Relationship With Your Teen

Mothers of teenagers have mixed feelings about everything. On the one hand, you might reminisce longingly for the early days when your child was just a baby and things were simpler. On the other hand, make sure you have a friend throw some water on your head so you don't get caught up in the rose-colored memory of days gone by.

The mother of a teenager sometimes does not know how to do her job. At least she thinks she does not know. Talk about being unappreciated. She used to be able to call the shots, but now most of her suggestions and efforts are thrown back in her own face. For example, I have given up trying to buy clothes for my teenager. Even if she picks out the very same thing I would have picked for her, I am careful not to show my preferences. Her need to resist me is stronger than her tastes, and at her age she often says just the opposite of what I say, just to be contrary.

Confronting Modern-World Fears

Children are more sophisticated today than we were at a similar age. They have had far more exposure than we had to the concepts of drugs and alcohol. But that doesn't automatically mean they are practicing everything they've heard about. In some ways there is a backlash of very responsible young people who think drugs and other forms of experimentation are just plain nasty. In fact, as you develop your new relationship with your teenager, be sure to reinforce your trust that he or she will make good decisions for his or her life. You always want to give your child a sense of unconditional approval, not of certain behaviors, but of his existence as your child. Love is not to be won or lost. Separate the behavior from the person.

This is the best thing you can do to prepare your child for the world. You can't be everywhere at all times. Leave that job to God. At some point your child will move on to his or her own relationship with a higher purpose. You can only be there to guide.

You still have authority to set limits for your teenager. I asked my daughter if she wanted me to tell her she could do whatever she wanted and she said, “No. That would be bad.” Children feel very unsafe when there is too much freedom. You should have some sense of what is going on with your child most of the time.

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.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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