Ever feel like the teen in your house has multiple personalities? Once puberty hits, teens (and preteens) can go from giddy to despondent to furious to serene – all in the space of an hour or less. We know hormones are partly to blame, but brain development and growth spurts also play a part.
Just a few years ago, my sons were ages 17, 15, and 13. That year I also had 30 8th graders in my class, and 30 more across the hall. I’ll do the math for you: that’s 63 moody teens that I had to face almost every day. Empathy certainly was helpful (see “E is for Empathy,” posted 1/28/10), but it was also important not to get sucked in.
Here’s the problem: as parents, we’ve devoted our lives to our children’s comfort and happiness from the day of their birth. It’s a hard habit to break, so when your adolescent is upset, you want to DO something about it.
Imagine your daughter arriving home in tears, wailing about how she and her former best friend had a fight, and her former friend said some mean things. She heads off to her room to change her clothes, and you begin to seethe about how awful her friend’s behavior was. About the time you’re ready to pick up the phone and call her mother, your daughter comes out of her room. You announce your intention, and she is aghast. “Geez, Mom, I don’t know why have to go off like that! I just texted her, and we both said we were sorry, and now she’s coming over in a little while so we can work on our science project. Can she spend the night?”
“Y-y-es, I guess so,” you stammer, as you try to figure out what just happened. Your daughter happily heads off to the kitchen while you figure out what to do with your frustration over what has turned out to be a non-issue.
Certainly you need to get involved in serious issues, like bullying or unfairness at school. But in many cases, all you need to do is to remain calm – to be the anchor in the storm of adolescent emotions. Don’t spend too much time analyzing the cause, nor dwell too long on solving the problem (your help might be unwelcome anyway). Instead, practice empathy, remain interested but neutral, and ride out this mood.
Then brace for the next one!