Parenting In the Unpredictable Years
I’m in Idaho at our youth ranch as I write this. Spring in the mountains of Idaho is something to behold. The temperature when I walked to breakfast was 27 degrees,and tonight it was close to 60 degrees when I left supper. It snowed today and by late afternoon kids were begging to wear shorts.
Things change dramatically and quickly here, and being with all these teens reminds me that, just like the weather, teens tend to have a lot of dramatic and unpredictable swings.
I know a dad that asks himself, “Am I dealing with a 7-, 17-, or 27-year-old right now?” Because a teen one moment can show amazing wisdom and poise and the next be totally immature and next be something in-between.
During parenting seminars and over and over on this blog we teach a model of development in which over time a child becomes more responsible for their own safety and behavior (respect and responsibility), and the parent becomes less responsible.
The chart above (click to enlarge) really only gives a picture of the general idea that over time, the parent and child reverse and that a parent can’t bear all the responsibility while expecting the kid to become independent.
However, the actual day-to-day experience is going to be much more jagged. The reality is that in one day both parent and teen negotiate a road with a bunch of blind curves, potholes, and switchbacks which will leave both parent and teen feeling dizzy and confused.
Here are a several of things we remind ourselves about teens here at Project Patch:
Expect things to be unpredictable
There is a lot happening physically and emotionally with a teen. You wouldn’t be angry at a teen that becomes uncoordinated and awkward during a growth spurt but for some reason we are surprised and angry when teens are emotionally awkward and uncoordinated. If we expect some unpredictable things, then maybe we can help them prepare and respond appropriately rather than be surprised.
Respond appropriately to their present need
Remember how hard it was when potty training your kids? You knew your drooling toddler knew how to use the potty but there were days in which she regressed to baby rather than acting like a big girl. It was frustrating, yet you knew that if you made too big of a deal about regressing that it would only make things worse.
Teens also regress at times, and at those times you may need to adjust and respond to them in a way that better fits their emotional level. I’ve seen so many teens that just need a simple hug and parent’s security but instead the parent remains distant because they don’t want to spoil or baby their teen. I’ve also seen parents who embarrass their kids because they insist on maintaining child-like traditions into the teen years. It may be a good idea for you to have a code word with your teen. Tell them, “I love you very much and am not personally embarrassed to tell the world, yet I also understand that how I show you that I care may be embarrassing to you. What would you think of a code word that we could use if you’d like me to back off?”
Don’t keep bringing up the unpredictability
I know you are baffled and just want to scream and pull what little hair you have left every time they go from mature to baby. It just doesn’t help to point out the change in either direction. Telling a teen who is acting wisely, “I’m so glad you aren’t acting immature anymore,” or saying, “Why are you suddenly back to being a three-year-old?” will never have the effect you hope for. Those are terribly unproductive things to say and only create distance between you and your teen. Do you respond well when your wife or boss dredge up the past? Use the limited influence you have to say something constructive.
It isn’t easy to parent teens and it isn’t easy to be a teenager. I encourage you to spend some time talking with your teen about this topic and hear their ideas for helping them and responding appropriately. You both need to adjust and respond in a way that moves each of you in the direction of the teen being responsible…and you enjoying their maturity.
Question: What unpredictable things do you remember from your teen years? What did your parents do well and what things do you wish they had known?