Contrary to what many moms and dads experience, Ms. Meyers found parenting her teens to be fascinating, easy, and fun.
- Are you sick and tired of your teenager's negative attitude and never ending complaints?
- Are you concerned that your teen is self-absorbed and lacks empathy?
- Does it frustrate you to no end that your teenager is tight-lipped and won't talk about their school day with you?
- Are you going out of your mind because your teen seems to only focus on the moment and isn't planning for the future?
If nodding "yes" to these questions, you're causing yourself a lot of unnecessary grief. Being negative, self-centered, uncommunicative, and living in the here-and-now are all common characteristics of teenagers. There's no concern for alarm when your teen goes through these normal developmental stages as they transition from childhood to adulthood. If you know what to expect, you can put it in perspective, relax, and enjoy your teenager!
Parenting Teens Can Be a Battle of Light Versus Dark
Parenting teenagers is a challenge because we're often at cross purposes. As we grow older, most moms and dads strive to keep a positive outlook, eschewing negative forces that drain us of our dwindling energy. We avoid anything or anyone who spoils our spirit or messes with our mojo. Our teens, on the other hand, are entering a new stage in their development when negativity has great allure. They invite it into their lives and so it enters ours as well.
This tug-of-war between light and dark can make parenting teenagers stressful and wearying at times. With a sense of humor and an idea of what to expect, though, it's made much easier. Contrary to what naysayers claim, parenting teens can be something to enjoy, not just survive.
1. Let Them Complain
It's easy for moms and dads to become drained by their teenager's steady flow of complaints. They may even perceive it as a personal attack on their parenting, reacting with anger and defensiveness. Yet, when they understand why their teen kvetches to them, they can respond with patience and compassion.
For too long, I let my son's unfavorable dinner reviews ruin my good mood. He criticized the food that I prepared as being too spicy, too dry, too chewy, or too bland. Yet, when I finally stepped back from the situation, I knew not to take it personally. After interacting with peers all day at middle school, he needed to release his pent-up frustrations at a place where he felt loved and protected: our family dinner table.
It makes sense that teenagers are especially negative at home. After all, it's a safe place to show the worst part of themselves. Debbie Pincus, a counselor for more than 25 years, says teens sound off to parents as a way to cope with stress. Mom and dads, she cautions, should listen but not offer solutions, try to fix the problem, or be judgmental.
Pincus states: “Negativity and complaining are actually ways to manage anxiety. When your child complains, she feels better because she's expressing herself and venting her worries and fears. If you don't react to it from your own anxiety, your child will move on.”
2. Know That Their Negativity Is Temporary
It's helpful for parents to keep in mind that negativity is a normal stage of development but won't last forever. Teens are no longer sweet little kids—thrilled about losing a tooth, eager about Saturday's soccer game, and enthralled with their school. They've reached a point where being negative is cool.
Hanging out with buddies and griping about their parents, teachers, and classmates is what teens like to do. Moreover, research shows that it's actually beneficial. When teens gather for a bitch fest, they're connecting with one another over common experiences and, therefore, no longer feel alone. They're less likely to get depressed, anxious, and suicidal when opening up and commiserating with one another.
3. Realize Egocentrism Is a Normal Part of Their Development
When I was a rookie kindergarten teacher with a headache, I gathered my students on the carpet and explained my plight. I enlisted their help: to share toys, get along with one another, and speak softly. Much to my relief, they all enthusiastically agreed to do so. Within minutes, though, the room was noisy and chaotic and all their concern about my well-being had vanished. I thought: How can they be so selfish and insensitive to my suffering?
Looking back on that day, I just chuckle at my ignorance about child development. Decades later, more experienced and educated, I now know that those kids were just being typical self-centered 5-year-olds. I was the one in the wrong for holding them to such a ridiculously unreasonable standard.
Similarly, moms and dads can save themselves a lot of heartache by accepting that teenagers are also egocentric. An important part of their brains that controls judgment, insight, impulse control, and emotion—the frontal lobe—is not yet fully developed. Therefore, teens struggle with evaluating the consequences of their actions and how those actions impact others. They live in the moment and focus on themselves.
4. Be Patient
Parents shouldn't perceive their teen's self-absorption as a permanent flaw in their character but as simply a normal stage in their development. They should, however, plan on being patient. Research shows that a teenager's brain may not reach its full development until their mid to late twenties or possibly even their early thirties.
Furthermore, new findings suggest that teens are not yet fully capable of reading another person's emotions. They can struggle to accurately interpret non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. They can falter when trying to decipher verbal cues such as tone of voice.
Because of these deficiencies in understanding communication, teens can seem even more egocentric and less empathetic. Moms and dads should plan on being patient. A teenager's ability to effectively read verbal and nonverbal cues may not kick in until the last stage of brain development.
Neuroscientist, Dr. Frances Jenson, talks about the good and bad aspects of the still developing teenage brain
5. Let Them Open Up When They're Ready
When my son arrives home from middle school, there are only two things on his mind: getting something to eat and spending time alone. After all, he has been surrounded by hundreds of other teens for seven long hours. He needs to decompress and who can blame him! The last thing he wants is for me to ask him a litany of questions about his day.
As a parent, I've come to realize that when we speak with our teenagers is just as important as what we say. Conversation flows better when we talk with our teens on their schedules, not ours. Just because it's convenient for us to listen on the drive home from school, doesn't mean that's the ideal time for them to open up and get chatty. In fact, it might be the worst time!
6. Eat Dinner Together as a Family
Eating dinner together provides the perfect opportunity to talk with and listen to your teen. It should be a tech-free period with no television, no cell phones, and no i-pads. According to Joseph Califano Jr., president of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “one of the simplest and most effective ways for parents to be engaged in their teens' lives is by having frequent family dinners.”
In fact, eating dinner together has many benefits. Research shows that kids who regularly have meals with their families are more likely to get better grades, maintain a proper weight, and deal effectively with stress. They're less likely to use cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana.
Parenting Teens Should Be Enjoyed, Not Just Survived
When we're ready to have a family, we feel that ache and proclaim: “I want a baby!” We imagine playing peek-a-boo, buying cute little onesies, and pushing a stroller through the park. It's a rare person who skips ahead 13 years and announces: “ I can't wait to have a teenager!"
We hear far too many negative stories about parenting teens that give us the impression that it's something to survive, not enjoy. Yet, when we educate ourselves about teen brain development and behavior, we can be prepared, patient, and understanding. With reasonable expectations, a good sense of humor, and lots of patience, we can joyfully embrace this part of our parenting journey and have fun with our teens.
What do you think?
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Questions & Answers
Question: My own parents really checked out when I was a teenager. How can I avoid doing the same with my teenagers?
Answer: Communicating with teens is so critical, but it's not unusual for parents to check out during these crucial years. Some moms and dads wrongly believe they're no longer needed in the day-to-day lives of their kids. They turn their attention to their careers, hobbies, and personal lives, thinking their adolescents want to be left alone. Teenagers, though, need to know they have mom and dad's unconditional love, support, and acceptance during this awkward and scary time as they transition from children into young adults. They need to know they matter in their families as the rest of their world becomes bigger and more indifferent.
Communicating with teens means you must be present because adolescents will open up on their schedule, not yours. If you're too busy and stressed out, you won't be available when your teen comes to you and wants to share her thoughts and feelings. You may react with judgment, exasperation, and frustration, and she'll make a mental note to self: Mom and Dad are not the ones I can turn to in my time of need. That's why, even in the teen years, it's extremely important to eat a relaxing dinner together as a family. This is the time set aside each day to touch basis with one another with no cell phones, no i-pads, no television, and no headphones.
Communicating with teens means letting them know they matter. Don't fall into the routine of being the all-knowing adult: dispensing advice, giving lectures, and nagging. These behaviors make teens feel inferior and incompetent. Instead, ask them for advice about technology (what parent doesn't have questions from time-to-time about apps, blogs, emojis, etc.). Let them be the experts and teach you a thing or two.
When communicating with teens today, it's also essential for parents to get their heads out of the sand. It's a different world – a lot more brutal. If you haven't looked at comments online, you don't appreciate how uncivil and cruel written communication has become. You don't see how adolescents deal with an assault of words on a daily basis. Whether it's directed at them or someone else, it affects their mental and emotional health. If you can't get them off social media, at least talk with them on a regular basis about how insane it all is—how people become heartless behind a keyboard and how important it is to interact with folks face-to-face.
Communicating with teens means being porous, receptive to new ideas and a changing world. If you're dismissive of what's happening with teens and their sexual identities, their love of rap and hip-hop, and their interest in veganism, socialism, and animal rights, you become just an old fogey to them. They shut down and become isolated, depressed, anxious, and even suicidal.
Thanks for your question. I, too, had parents who checked out when I was an adolescent, so I'm very mindful not to do that with my teenage sons. My 17-year-old came out to me last year. I was so grateful that I had kept the lines of communication open and he felt safe enough to tell me.
© 2015 McKenna Meyers
McKenna Meyers (author) on December 22, 2017:
That's so true, Asfia. When we understand a teen's brain is not fully developed, we can cut them some slack for the bad choices they make like driving too fast or not turning in homework. Now I have an 18-year-old and really enjoy our relationship. He's largely responsible for his life and I'm just there if he needs a little help and guidance. If we give them a solid foundation, they really do turn out great but there's certainly a lot of worries along the way!
Asfia Yasir from Canada on December 22, 2017:
This article has brought very meaningful insight for all parents. I myself is a mother of three kids and one of them being a teenager. Although we have been teenagers once but when it comes to parenting, at least Im not able to comprehend many mindsets of teenagers like negativity which is mentioned in this article. Ofcourse with great efforts to remain calm and patient disputes are resolve but when you know whats going on inside their minds, understanding of their issues gets a lot more easier.
McKenna Meyers (author) on November 07, 2015:
Yes. With teenagers, it seems like a lot of the parenting involves just waiting around until they're ready to talk. My sons never say much, but I'll be ready when they finally do open up! Thanks for reading!
Ebonny from UK on November 07, 2015:
You are SO right about teenagers not wanting to communicate directly after school (and sometimes this applies to younger children in my experience) and as you say parents shouldn't take it personally.
Thankfully after something to eat and a little down time, they're usually much more "human" but yes, it's really frustrating when they respond with just a grunt to our attempts at conversation, especially if as a parent you have juggled your work responsibilities etc to make yourself available to collect your children from school or be there when they arrive home. My own parents were never there when I got home (not their fault) and so being around at the end of my kids school day was something I strived to do. Reading this, I'm realising I was possibly lucky not to have had them nagging me to communicate at this time when I was a teenager!
McKenna Meyers (author) on October 04, 2015:
I can totally see how you thought your son had major problems since you had no brothers. I think it's easier to parent the opposite gender through the teen years. If I had daughters, I'd be more hurt by their complaining and criticizing. With my sons, I don't take it personally. Thanks for reading and commenting!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 04, 2015:
Nancy this should be very encouraging for moms who still have teens in the house. I remember waiting for a super-serious diagnosis on my son when he was just being a normal teenager (I have no brothers). You share some very healthy perspectives.