The Early Teens: A Return to the Terrible Two's
Screaming, tantrums, feet stomping, refusing to do as asked, ignoring your no's . . . . It all seems so familiar. You swear you've been there before--because you havebeen there before with the smaller version of your teen: The Toddler.
After about a decade of relative calm, the Terrible Two's have returned with a vengeance. Irrational, moody, constantly pushing the boundaries, outrageously joyful, horribly angry--those toddler years have come back in an adult-sized package.
The sooner you adjust to this concept, the sooner you can take steps that will help you and your Terrible Teen to survive this new phase of development.
- Set Limits--Just as they did when they were two and trying to climb out of the cart in the middle of the grocery, the 13 year old is all about pushing your limits. They may look like adults. They may sometimes display common sense. But they are neither mature nor rational. They still need you to be their parents. By setting limits, you give them the security and rules that, like their former toddler selves, they secretly crave.
- Create Consequences--Unfortunately, you can't put your teen in a time out. With doors slamming, foul language flying, and feet stomping, we would all love to pick these people up and put them in their rooms for a nice long nap or time out, but we just can't move them around like we did 75 pounds ago.
Instead of "grounding," which with extracurricular activities can be hard to enforce, revoking privileges is one easily implemented, yet very effective, consequence for broken rules, poor attitudes, lying, and a host of other common adolescent misdemeanors. Teens today have more privileges available to withhold than our own parents could ever dream possible. Be sure, though, to set a reasonable limit to the consequence, which takes into account the severity of the problem, as well as the reality of the impact this consequence may have on your life as well as theirs.
- Follow through with the Consequence--Never threaten anything that you are not prepared to enforce. "You are grounded for a month!" "You are banned from that computer for the rest of the semester!" Can you really do that? Probably not. Make sure whatever punishment comes out of your mouth in the heat of the moment is actually something you are prepared to do.
- Remain Calm, Cool & Collected--Remember, you are dealing with what Bill Cosby once referred to as "brain damaged people". I never realized what he meant until this summer. These people are not adults. They have more hormones rampaging through their systems than Arizona has sand. But logic? It's out the window. Your reason and logic will infuriate them--but your job as a parent is to guide your rebel and try to ensure he or she doesn't make serious mistakes during this metamorphosis into adulthood. If the discussion is getting out of hand, hit the pause button and give everyone time to simmer down and relax.
- Cell phones: Be sure to get an unlimited texting plan for your child. It doesn't cost much extra, and oddly spelled, condensed sentences are how these creatures communicate. Never take away cell phone privileges. No matter what the issue, it's imperative that your teenager can reach you and communicate with you under any circumstance.
- Computers & Gaming Systems: Computer and game systems are easy-to-revoke privileges that have a big impact on the social lives of our teens. Poor grades, late homework, and other issues are all reasons to consider taking away or seriously limiting computer and gaming time.
Laptops can be taken away, and desktops can have their power cords removed. However, just as effective and perhaps more productive than removing access to the computer, is disabling their access to the wireless router, leaving your child with a computer that can only be used for homework (what horrors).
If your child's schoolwork revolves around online Google docs, then another option is to require him or her to do homework in the family room, or wherever Mom and Dad hang out in the evenings.
- Hug Them--Two weeks ago, during what I can only describe as a giant tantrum, I hugged my daughter. Suddenly her angry, obstinate tirade turned into a flood of tears. I used to do this when she and her brothers were toddlers and having meltdowns.
- Change the Subject--Remember when you could stick a pacifier in their mouths or sit them in front of their favorite movie and all would be well? While distraction is no longer that simple, sometimes a bad, sulky mood, the start of an argument or a case of the "I want's" can be shut down just by changing the subject. I wouldn't suggest this method for important issues, but for those day-to-day moments when you your child starting to simmer, simply changing the subject can just shut it all down in an instant.