Keep your cool when teen drives you mad

If you have trouble controlling yourself, your teenager will suffer for it.
If you have trouble controlling yourself, your teenager will suffer for it.

Teenagers aren’t easy.  They can be demanding, intense and moody.

In the normal world of adults, you have more control over how difficult people are involved in your life.  When it comes to your difficult teenager, there’s little choice but to be involved.

So what do you do when you notice that your teenager’s words and behavior can provoke out-of-control and equally intense reactions in you?

Don't take it personally

First, gain some emotional distance.  Don’t take it personally and don’t expect them to behave like mature adults all the time.  Conceptualize your role as a parent like this:

You are not your teenager’s friend. Don’t expect him  to alter his behavior because of how bad it makes you feel.  That effort is doomed.  You are the director of the Civilized Human Training Program of which your teenager is a student.  Your job is to approximate outside-of-the-home conditions that will allow your teenager to learn to be a well-adjusted person in the real world.

This is not to mean that you should be an impersonal tyrant.  Part of being well adjusted is knowing how to get and give in relationships.  You should be emotionally supportive, nurturing and giving, but you’re by no means a door mat.

The balance can be hard to strike, but as they get older they should be relying less on you and more on themselves.  Although, you should always make time to be open, understanding and comforting to your teenagers, it is important to note that being soft and open in the personal relationship does not mean being indulgent when it comes to the implementation of rules.  You can listen to and empathize with your teenager and at the same time firmly uphold the rules.

Tolerate their tantrums

Teenagers might rebel and say they hate you for being firm, but teenagers need to feel safe, even from themselves.  You can give them this feeling of safety by tolerating their explosions or their tantrums.  This gives your teenager the feeling that although they might be losing it, you are still in control and in charge.  This makes them feel cared for and safe.

Remember they’re in a tricky spot.  They have some adult capabilities and powers, but in some ways they are still childlike.

It makes sense that they would experiment with trying to take their freedom from you. The flip side is that deep in the heart of every defiant, explosive teenager there is fear and dread of what could happen if they really had that freedom.

The irony is that if you chose to give it to them, they will resent you for not protecting them from it.  Additionally, being able to absorb the worst of what your teenager can throw at you helps them be more tolerant of their own intense emotions.

What’s the problem that I often run into?  Parents have a hard time tolerating their teenager’s intense moods - defiance, anger, sadness, you name it.  So then what happens?  

The teenagers feel that their emotions are dangerous and can overwhelm people so they shouldn’t share them. 

They feel that their parents cannot handle what they’re going through.  They have a hard time believing that their parents can help them, so they do the best they can with the freedom they wrestle from them that deep inside they know they shouldn’t have.

Miami Herald

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