Night of the living teenager

“My kid has totally turned against us,” a friend of mine lamented as she shared all the ways her teenager was lashing out in rebellion. “She insists when she turns 18, she’s leaving. I feel devastated!”

I was there as recently as a few weeks ago. My 14-year-old daughter looked at me like I was an ogre, and anything I said or did was a blatant attack against her. She even swore she was moving in with her father at the end of the school year. I felt like I was grasping at threads to keep her here. I was failing as a mother, and I was sure to be the only person in the world going through this teenage drama pointed directly at me. It wasn’t until I put a call out to the universe and sought the help of some friends that I realized I’M NOT ALONE.

You, parents of teenagers – YOU’RE NOT ALONE.

I’ve heard that the teenage years are akin to mental illness. Teens just don’t know what they’re doing, saying, or how to handle all the mess going on inside. One friend of mine put it more kindly by referring to teenagers as delicate creatures, describing how teens are overwhelmed with feelings of rage, addiction, lust, fear, and more – sometimes all at the same time. Even when they’re hateful or spiteful, they’re fragile. And with all that, plus the daily struggle of making it out alive amidst their peers, the closest (and safest) person they have to lash out at is YOU, the parent.

The first best advice I ever received while going through the heartache of having a teenager was to seek out a good counselor – with and without my daughter. I bristled at this a bit, believing it was an expensive route to go. However, I found that most jobs cover up to 3 therapy sessions, and many insurance companies take over after that with just a co-pay from you. A good counselor will not only give your teenager a place to vent and help in managing all the stuff going on inside, but he or she will give you (the parent) some insight into the workings of the teenage brain and how to guide your teen without sliding into a power struggle.

Will your teen fight you on counseling? Probably. At least, mine did. When I brought counseling up to my daughter, her initial reaction was to tell me she wasn’t going. And when I insisted, she swore she’d act like she was off in the head. I finally reasoned with her that all I was asking for were three sessions. After that, she was free to never come again.

She went, and counseling ended up being the saving grace in ending the war between us.

Second best piece of advice I received was to listen. That means no talking, no rebuttals, and no trying to fix anything unless your teen specifically asks for it. If he’s lashing out at you, take a step back emotionally and let him vent. Sometimes the unreasonable things your teen is saying will lead into the real feelings he’s dealing with underneath.

Third best piece of advice I’ve heard is to share your feelings. Sometimes your teen just says things to make herself feel better. Sometimes it makes her feel better to make you as angry as she is. Sometimes she just want to be rude to you so that you have to be rude to her – and then she has something to use against you because GAW, YOU’RE SUCH A HORRIBLE PARENT! If your teen is blasting at you that she’s going to move out immediately after high school, she may just be trying to hurt you. Or she may really mean it. Either way, she’s looking for a rise out of you. If you bite back, she succeeded. But a better way to handle it is to tell her that when she says things like that it makes you sad because you actually love having her there, but understand how much she must really want her independence.

I’ve discovered that empathy goes a really long way.

Final advice – don’t go it alone. Surround yourself with other parents of teenagers and allow yourself time to vent or seek out advice. Sharing stories with others who are going through or who have been there will solidify the fact that you’re not alone. It will also give you the reality that this is such a fleeting period of your child’s life – and it too shall pass. Soon enough the stranger that has invaded your teen’s body will up and leave, and left behind will be the son or daughter you knew was in there somewhere.

As I told my friend, there should be medals of honor for parents of teenagers. Hang in there, we’re all rooting for you.


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