Why Do We Fight with Our Teenagers?
Why Do We Fight with Our Teenagers?
For 13 years you have slaved and worried. You have changed diapers, nursed them through chickenpox, cried on their first day at school, cheered for them in the school Christmas play, patched up skinned knees, and packed their lunch box for their first day at secondary school.
Surely those were the hardest years?
Now they are growing up. Now they are a bit more independent, a bit more mature, surely things will get easier?
They are big enough to help out with some chores. They can look after themselves for an evening if you want a well earned night off. You can have sensible conversations with them. So what goes wrong when they hit that 13th Birthday???
In many cultures they would now be considered adults - old enough to marry, old enough to sit in the village council to listen to the debates with the elders.
Yet in the West, the teen years seem, so often, to be full of strife and conflict. Why does this occur?
There are two parts to the answer: biology and culture. The first is that the teen years are a period of amazing brain development.
The brain is an ever changing machine - almost like a self-programming computer. It is constantly making, strengthening, weakening and breaking connections. It is these connections that form the basis of memory, of learned skills, of perception, and of social reasoning.
During the first twelve years the brain learns a lot - it changes the child from a non-bal, literate, sociable and pretty competent pre- teen.
And then it all falls apart. Quite literally, during the teen years the brain completely re-wires itself. And while it does so, it actually LOSES some of its previous abilities and skills. This is most noticeable in the area of social communication.
The teen years are, pre-eminently, a time of learning how to be a social being - how to form and maintain social attachments - to society, to friends and, of course, ultimately to a sexual mate. But learning this stuff is difficult.
The brain has to operate in these fields while, at the same time, it is re- programming itself to a much greater degree of sophistication that it had in the pre-teen years. And that is what causes such variability in their social functioning:
At times they are acutely aware of social nuances. At other times they just don't seem to get it. Add in to this a healthy dose of fluctuating sex hormones, plus some classical teenage sleep deprivation, and is it any wonder that more often than not they seem to be "loaded for bear"?
Watch out, lest they bite your head off for no apparent reason! But there is more, and this is the second factor: The teen years are also a time of shifting expectations.
The language of expectations is contained in words such as "should", "ought", "at this age", "normal". And the teen years seem to be especially filled with such words - what should a 13, 14, 16 year old be allowed/expected to do?
What expectations of "normal" behavior do the parents, the teenager, the friends, the teachers, the neighbors, the police, the society have? Are they not often very confused and mixed? But there is a problem with expectations. Every time you have one, you have the potential for a problem.
A behavior is only a behavior; until someone says that it "should not" be happening. Then, suddenly, it is a problem. So, with all these people having different expectations of what your teenager "should" be doing, plus the heady biological mix described above, is it any wonder that the fireworks go off?
So, how do you manage all of this?
Here are some ideas.
Next time you are in an argument with your teen - or getting frustrated with his or her behavior, consider the following:
1) Arguing and shouting won't work
2) Your teen, like you, is simply trying to achieve the very best outcome that he or she can, given her current abilities and perspectives (which are probably different to yours),
3) Your teen might be just as confused as you are as to why you keep getting in arguments!
4) Whose problem is this?
What, exactly, will happen if the outcome of all of this is opposite to your desires?
Does that *really* matter, in the grand scheme of things? 5) Is there another way of motivating your teenager to comply, other than trying to bully him?
6) The teen years will pass - they will grow up. When they do, what kind of relationship do you want to have with them, and what memories?
Yes, have rules. Yes have expectations. But, at the same time, Mom, Dad, chill out a bit. Don't totally alienate them - find some ways of having FUN again.
author of Why Do We Fight with Our Teenagers? is Dr Noel Swanson MD
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