Picking Your Battles With Your Teen
When you learn to recognize typical teen behavior, you can control your automatic reactions to it and communicate clearly in times of conflict. (It also helps to realize that unhealthy friendships and sleep deprivation can alter a teen’s mood, judgment and behavior in big ways, too.)
Typical teen behavior can trigger a lot of emotion in parents. By learning to spot that behavior and manage our own impulses, we avoid giving our teens control. Plus, we communicate better because our messages aren’t clouded by emotion.
The first trick is to pay attention to yourself.
What happens when your teen mouths off? Does your heart race? Do your cheeks burn? Does your neck get stiff? These are the warnings signs of a gut reaction. As soon as you feel the cues, take a deep breath (or three) or take a break to cool down. Before you do, though, set a time when you’ll both come back and continue talking.
Next, learn to spot typical teen behavior so you won’t over-react.
Once you know that brain development can affect teen behavior in some pretty bizarre ways, you may see your teen in a new light. Start keeping a list of the things your teen does that make you feel frustrated, impatient, angry or threatened. (Include specific words, emotions, gestures and body language.) Writing things down will make it easier for you recognize the same scene later and say, “I’m not falling into this trap again.”
Just don’t get so disconnected that you miss the red flags.
Disconnecting your emotions from your teen’s everyday drama doesn’t mean you should ignore what you see. These things deserve close attention (especially if you see several at once):
- He has a hard time concentrating.
- She’s quiet, depressed, tired, or doesn’t care about her looks.
- He’s hostile, won’t cooperate, and often misses curfews.
- Her relationships with your family are falling apart.
- He’s hanging out with a new group of friends that you think are a bad influence.
- Her grades have slipped and she often misses school.
- He’s lost interest in sports and other favorite activities.
- Her eating and sleeping patterns have changed.
- His eyes are red-rimmed and his nose is runny — but he doesn't have allergies or a cold.
- She gets explosive when she’s angry.
- Household money keeps disappearing.
- You find evidence (pipes, bongs, rolling papers, small medicine bottles, eye drops, or butane lighters).
If you have serious worries about your teen, visit www.drugfree.org/timetoact. You’ll find advice there about what to do next.