Teenagers: They Don’t Know Who They Are, But They Know They’re Not You

“Who are you and what have you done with my sweet child?!” She wanted to say (but didn’t). Janice leaned her forehead on her child’s just-slammed door. They used to have cookies and milk together after school. Now her daughter says that’s “dumb.” All she said was, “How was your day, Sweetie peetie?” And her 14-year-old yelled “Ohhhhh Mom, really?!? I’m not a baby anymore.” And slammed her door. Janice called me.

“Teenagers are pod people” I told her “Like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers? At 13, they are stolen and replaced by exact duplicates. Don’t be fooled.” Janice smiled a little. “They are just trying to figure out who ‘they’ are. The only thing they know is that they are not you. Hang in there though, they do come back. Right about the time they leave for college. But by then, you won’t want to let them go.” Janice found this ‘oddly comforting’.

Top Five Concerns She Might Have to Look Forward to (and Suggestions):
1. Drama drama drama – With teens, everything is magnified (particularly for girls). Listen, try not to over-relate; to them it is not about you. Avoid making light of it, TO THEM this is very large and very serious. Sympathize, but if it begins to spiral, give them self-control techniques (ex: breathe). Ask them to suggest possible solutions and encourage them to work it out.

2. Friends who could be trouble – Keep a close eye on them and these friends. Colorful hair or interesting clothing choices may not indicate anything but individuality. Watch for uncharacteristically negative behaviors with or after being with this friend. Remind your child that they are responsible for their choices, and their impact on others. “In our family we treat each other with respect.” Tell them you trust their judgment until they give you reason not to.

We can’t tell them not to be friends or we may push them toward the very friend we wanted to avoid. And, as always, remind them they don’t go with anyone you don’t know.

3. Testing Limits – It’s what they do. Be cool and chose your battles wisely. There is power in saving it for what is really important. When you do draw the line, be consistent and strong. These are usually breaches of an established rule. For example, if curfew is breached you must follow through with the established consequence, every time, or you will lose credibility. (This is a test, this is only a test)

4. Disrespect – This should not be shown by either of you. Remember when they were two and they had meltdowns in the cereal aisle at the grocery store? Looks the same, only they’re taller now and know better. They may try to challenge you in public (disrespect), you might yell at them publicly (also disrespectful). Tell them this is not okay, you two will need to talk about this privately (and when you are more calm, if necessary). Remove the audience and try again. Seek resolution, you are both worth it. Allowing this kind of behavior will not serve them in school, in relationships, or in life.

5. Communication – Maybe you sense there is something wrong, but they no longer want to talk with you. They text, e-mail, call or hang out with friends, but not you. You will need a back-up plan—a designated “safe” person they can talk to. Make sure they know that if they need to talk to someone else, they can always call Uncle…or Aunt…or an older sibling—SOMEONE .

As teens, their job is to separate themselves from their parents. What looks like rejection is often insecurity and fear. Understand this, and your compassion will make it easier to help them find constructive strategies in their new roles. Do not be tempted to play the friend role, be strong for them. What they need now more than ever is a parent. Someone like YOU who is calm and consistent, and not afraid to put on their parent pants when the need arises.