I currently have 3 young adult males living in my home.
Yes, they are my sons, and yes, I love them dearly. When I do the math, I have been living with 3 teenagers AT THE SAME TIME for five years. And in a lot of ways it’s been a long five years.
I have, in that time, learned a few things about myself and they’re not super flattering. Because often times the difficulty with the teenagers doesn’t lie with the teenagers, it lies with their mother. I mean, it could also lie with their father but I’ll stick to my own side of the street today. We can talk about what’s wrong with him tomorrow.
Here are my biggest mistakes when it comes to parenting my teenagers. Caution: major self awareness ahead.
I pour oil on the flames.
Remember when they were toddlers and “they” told us that when they had a tantrum they were actually just afraid? And that returning anger with anger was not a good strategy because you losing it made them feel even less in control? And you both having tantrums wasn’t really a good look.
Teenagers are exactly the same. When they are screaming “FUCK YOU” at the top of their lungs it’s not about you.
Let me repeat that. IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.
They have a lot going on and it’s terrifying. And they are terrified. And you are the safest place to land all that terror. Does it mean you accept the poor behavior and set zero boundaries around what’s acceptable? Nope. But maybe don’t bring it up right then. Maybe let them calm down and then have a reasonable conversation about how we talk to each other.
And also bad is screaming FUCK YOU ASS HOLE back at them. This is mostly what I’ve done and it’s never worked. (my mother reads my blog and is not going to be happy with my cursing. Sorry, Mom. I still love Jesus.)
I Let My Anger Accumulate
Here’s the thing: you are in for approximately one million “character building opportunities” with your teenager. If you think back to your pre-marital counseling (which good Lord I hope you had because that’s a whole different topic for another day), they warned us against bringing up old wrongs in every fight and saying words like “always” and “never”. I know this. Heck, I’ve TAUGHT this. And yes, I’ve allowed myself to fall into this with my teenagers.
Words like “here we go again with you and your lack of ability to think things through” are not only NOT helpful, they will madden your teenager. Because honestly, that would make me crazy, too.
It’s so hard, but the only healthy way for me to do this is to take each situation as it comes and not bring up old hurts and grudges. I think I do this well maybe a solid 45% of the time.
I Future Trip
If you’ve spent any time in recovery, you are familiar with this phrase, but for those of you who haven’t, the Urban Dictionary defines it this way:
To worry and freak out about the future instead of enjoying the present.
In this context, it’s less about enjoying and more about assuming that whatever your teen is currently doing is going to RUIN THEIR LIVES FOREVER.
As in, “don’t you understand that if you keep down this path you’ll never have the future you want.”
That seems like a reasonable thing to say, but in my experience, it terrifies your teen. Because they know they’re making bad choices and their fear about their future is pretty much the motivation for every freak out. They don’t know that, but you can. And it can make you less of a screaming lunatic.
I Argue With Crazy People
My best strategy in dealing with teen angst and anger? Get super calm. Get super in control. And if they won’t calm down, simply walk out of the room. Or go for a walk.
I realize in the moment it doesn’t seem that simple, but you cannot reason with a person who is at a level 8 out of 10 on the anger scale and trying is like that old saying my mom used to use:
Never try to teach a pig to sing. It will frustrate you and annoy the pig.
But here’s the caveat: you still have to have the hard conversation. The child and you will still be there when cooler heads prevail and rarely, if ever, is there a conflict that must be resolved RIGHT NOW, although it can very much seem that way in the moment. In fact, the more it seems that way, the more a cooling off period is most likely the best strategy.
I am still doing this wrong on a daily basis. So please do not read this as “do this like I do this” because I fail more than I succeed. However, I am learning more about myself with each argument and I like to believe they are as well. And I really do think we’re all going to survive.
God bless you. And God bless our teenagers.