If you were to ask a room full of parents, "Which stage of parenting is the hardest?" Most would answer, "The teen years!"
Kids are fighting for independence and freedom
while parents are trying to guide them and keep them safe. Talk about a tug-of-war!
So, what's really going on?
Everything is in transition at the same time. Our kids are changing from the “babies” who needed us to teens who are now pushing us away. We are having to change how we approach discipline because we are now dealing with someone who can reason (and manipulate) their way through situations. We might blame hormones for the emotion driven volcano was once our sweet child, but it's more than that.
1. Kids aren’t staying “kids” as long Our kids are being pushed out of their "kid" stage earlier than ever. There was a time when things that were more "PG-13" stayed in that age group. With the internet and social media, our 8- and 9-year-olds are seeing things they just aren't ready to deal with. Technology gives our kids access to everything, from funny cat videos to porn.
What does that have to do with your sassy teen? She's trying to live out what she's seeing on tv, in movies, in social media and her friends’ behavior. Even the "family friendly" channels like Disney portray parents as bumbling idiots and write the kids’ roles to be very sarcastic all in the name of getting a laugh. It’s no wonder our kids try out that attitude as well.
2. Teens want control Teens want to start making their own decisions instead of having to listen to their parents. Unfortunately, they are wanting to make decisions on things that could have life-long consequences. Topics may include social groups, peer pressure, college selection, dating, drugs, and even their sexual identity. #heavystuff When we try to guide them, they push back because they feel we are "old school" and know nothing about being a teen nowadays (which, I will grant them, is somewhat true!). So, it’s a fine line parents have to walk between helping and supporting their independence. (I’ve been there, it is so rough some days!)
3. The teen brain is still growing Preteens and teens have brains that are still developing In fact, the frontal lobe which controls executive functions (i.e., logic, critical thinking, impulse control and long-term planning) isn't fully developed until the age of 25.
Teens tend to respond through emotion ("I hate you, you're the worst!") instead of logic ("I'm really frustrated, can I have a minute?") because of a lack of maturity.
In other words, their edit button doesn’t work. They’re trying, but the wiring still isn’t connected.
What can parents do?
The first key is to remember your smart-mouthed preteen is probably not trying to drive you off the deep end. Most times it's not personal against you, they are just frustrated or unsure of how to deal with things (and remember, their brain is still forming!).
Here's a few things to try:
1.Talk about it! Kids behave better when they know what’s expected
While teens may have a million reasons for their behavior, it's still up to us to be patient and teach them appropriate behavior. I recommend having a family discussion about respectful behavior. This is a dialogue, not a lecture, and everyone gets to chime in and share their thoughts.
Start by asking your kids how they would describe respect. This gives you a window into their thoughts and feelings as well as what they see in school or with their peers. Talk about how different families may have different versions of respect and you want everyone to be clear about “respect” in your family.
When it's your turn, describe specific behaviors that are both positive (eye-to-eye contact, greeting someone by name, using manners) and negative (eye rolling or being unkind). As the discussion continues include what it feels like to be on the receiving end of disrespectful behavior. Ask your kids how they feel when someone is rude to them.
Next, write up rules about respectful behavior as a family. Get the kids involved to help finish this sentence, “In our family, respect means…”
Complete this discussion by brainstorming a list of consequences for snippy attitudes. Let the kids help create the list. Consequences may include:
Lose of their phone for 1/2 day
Time in their room (no screens allowed)
Loss of a privilege for repeated offenses
2. Give kids a chance to learn
There is a learning curve with everything! You can say something like, "Look, I know you get irritated but I'm politely asking you to do the dishes so I'm expecting you to be polite in response. I'll give you one reminder to try your answer again, then you know the consequences after that." (They know the consequences because they helped come up with them!). Give this approach a week to 10 days, then take out the reminder.
3. Pick your battles!
As hard as it is, try to evaluate the situation before disciplining. If you need to, take a few minutes to calm down. It doesn't help the situation if everyone is wound up! Notice if your preteen is coming home from school stressed, is having a friend issue, might not be doing well at school, is discovering they no longer fit into the same social group they've been with since kindergarten...the list could go on for pages! Be very intentional in your response to their attitude, when we fire back at them out of irritation it just ramps up the arguing.
4. Be their safe zone. All those outside forces may be having an affect on your kiddo. When kids try to hold everything in at school, they sometimes come home and dump on us. No, it's not pleasant, but we are their "safe place to land" when things get hard. They feel safe expressing their emotions at home because they know we won't reject them whereas their friends just might.
5. Be the parent, they need that right now!
I wrote an entire blog on why we need to be the parent now, a friend later. Our job is to lead our kids through the mess that is the teen years. When times get tough don't back down! (Read that blog, you'll understand why I am firm on this one.)
6. Be their guide
Teens are having new social experiences and may be changing their friend group. They are learning new rules about relating to others. This can lead to some frustration and missteps along the way. Give them the words they need to express themselves more respectfully. Most importantly, remember our kids are watching us interact with our partners, friends, even the checkout lady at the grocery store. Do you treat others with patience and kindness or do you get snippy and impatient? Kids live what they learn.
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