It happened. Sometimes it happens overnight.
Where did the sweet child who actually liked me go?
As if the parenting gig wasn’t already hard enough, we now have the teen stage to navigate. (If your teen was dreamy, you may have had a unicorn…and I am jealous).
Information is empowering. We do better when we know better. This has been so very true with the parents that I encounter. Once they understand (and I learned too…on my knees) a few key concepts, the ride is smoother.
It is not personal.
Teenagers are doing what they are supposed to do developmentally. The stage is called individuation. They become individuals. Separate from us. Unique to them. We have given them a foundation…kindof like programming a computer. And the teen years are when they begin to take the reins and branch out.
It is developmentally normal.
We parents get demoted and friends get promoted.
Parents get relegated to being the wallet and the ride. They want us to continue to fund their lives and drive them around while staying out of their business.
And we are supposed to be happy with that?
Well, don’t shoot the messenger here. It is normal. Just think back to your teen years. How much “hanging with your parents” did you do, or maybe the better question is “how much hanging with your parents did youwant to do?”
There are five key needs that a child is working to meet at all of their ages…
-belonging (the need to fit in)
-love (give and receive it)
-power (choice and agency in their day to day life)
-special/valued/important (not another girl, or another boy)
-experimentation/exploration (curiosity, novelty, trying things out)
It is that last one that has us holding our breath and attempting to control these teenagers as we are typically projecting our fears and anxieties onto them while they are exploring and experimenting. The experimenting for a toddler headed away from you to explore a puddle you may have found annoying. The experimenting for a teenager can be life altering and permanent (drinking, driving, alcohol, sex, drugs). Hence, parents are sleepless and holding their breath.
And, they are doing this while having impulsive unfinished frontal lobes in their brain development…boys’ brains are complete at 25 while a girl’s is 21!
So, what are we to do?
We all need to become a dispassionate cop. Let’s break that down.
The cop part sounds easy enough: consequences. I speed, I get a ticket. Consequences are how the world works and they teach us and can be corrective. However, for a consequence to be different than a punishment, it has to fit the 4 R’s: reasonable (not “you are NEVER taking the car again”), respectful, related, and teach responsibility. If not, it is a punishment. Punishments typically are not effective. They are arbitrarily assigned and are usually unrelated and the child often hates the parent while simultaneously NOT reflecting on their behavior.
With the 4 R’s applied, the child feels the consequence of their choice and typically owns that they did it and they deserve the consequence.
Let’s apply it to the phone since that one is maddening. Let’s say that the rule in your house is that the phone is to be plugged in to a community space at a certain time and the child doesn’t do it. (Phones are not rights, they are privileges). This privilege is offered so long as the teen honors the parameters established up front. Should the device NOT show up in the designated area at the designated time, applying the 4 R’s would sound like: “ the phone was not plugged in by 9 pm so it will not be available to you tomorrow”. (Reasonable. Related to the phone. Respectful. Teaching responsibility).
That is the “cop” portion of dispassionate cop. The “dispassionate” portion involves us parents communicating in a neutral tone eliminating all the lectures outlining how ungrateful they are, disrespectful they are, privileged they are, hurt that we are, what it was like when we were kids, etc etc. WHY? Because any of that delivery will often result in the conversation headed into attacking your delivery instead of staying focused on the offense that they committed.
You certainly feel all of those feelings. And can and should get them out. Just not at your teen. Share with partners, friends, therapists, etc.
Love them and stay connected and available in whatever common bonds that you have. Share information with them about these areas in which they may be experimenting…they need information as it can be terrifying, confusing, and overwhelming. Deliver consequences applying the 4 R’s. Practice being a “dispassionate cop”. All that love and foundation that you have provided is still there. And they emerge with that foundation again after these teen years.