How to parent a teen who hates your guts
Parenting teenagers never has been, and never will be, a walk in the park. And that’s putting it mildly. Pushing boundaries and testing parental reactions is a psychological rite of passage but what should mums and dads do if their teen is sullen, rude, and argumentative all of the time?
Having an adolescent in the house often reminds parents of the challenging toddler years. The constant opposition to everything you say, the limited vocabulary, and the emotional exhaustion draws many similarities between the terrible twos and the traumatic teens. However, understanding why your teenager behaves the way they do can help you to feel (slightly) less exasperated.
- Sarcasm, answering back, criticising and/or insulting you is your teen's way of expressing their psychological 'independence' from you and from childhood, albeit in an unpleasant manner. Young people are often unsure of their own feelings about growing up and seek autonomy by putting distance between themselves and their parents. Behind the angry exterior however, adolescents crave security and stability within their family; sometimes the most behaviourally challenging teens are the most emotionally dependent.
- What appears to parents as insolence is, in reality, just their teen's attempts to develop a sense of individual identity. By resisting you, and your rules, they are declaring their psychological free will "I can do what I want, I'm not a child." Teenagers begin to redefine what groups they belong to and who they identify with and this usually means mentally 'separating' themselves from their parents.
- As a parent your teen's behaviour towards you can feel downright cruel, not to mention relentless. Try to bear in mind that what they say is usually very different from what they believe to be true or feel deep-down. Angry statements, name-calling, and swearing often mask the fact that they are overwhelmed by their emotions. Remember: they have not yet developed the mature cognitive skills to argue in a more logical way.
- Make no mistake, even though your teenager may appear to dislike you most of the time they are still taking their lead from you on how to be a grown-up. Adolescents mirror both the way their parents express themselves AND the way they cope with confrontation. It is normal to be (and feel) provoked by your teen but pay attention to your own reactions; modelling self-control and self-censorship during an argument is one of the greatest skills you can pass on to your child. Breathe and count in your head, just breathe and count...
- Although siblings appear to spend most of their time killing each other they can also take some of the pressure off a fraught parent-teen relationship. Brothers and sisters learn to tolerate and (eventually) respect each other in their teenage years. Don't be tempted to frequently pry information regarding one child about another; teens can feel less emotionally isolated if they can talk to their siblings about you - even if what they are saying is negative. Releasing the emotional pressure valve by venting and laughing about parents is, after all, a rite of passage that most of us can identify with.
Just like the stress-inducing toddler years, parenting a teenager can be a difficult time. But in the same way you WILL get out alive - if not a little bruised. However, if you think that your teen's mood, or their relationship with you, is a significant problem then you should seek outside professional support.
A psychologist or qualified counsellor won't tell you or your teen what to do; they will help you both to see things in a new light and strengthen your parent-child bond while helping you to become stronger individuals individually.
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