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Are Teens a Different Species?

Learn what you can expect during the teenage years, and get advice on how to cope.

Are Teens a Different Species?

You've dreaded the moment for years, still you're surprised by it the day it happens. You look over at your child, and you need to look up to see if his face is dirty. It is, so you wipe the dirt with your hand, and you realize it's not dirt, it's hair. Boo-Boo has a beard. Or, out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of a hot chick walking down the street and as you turn to stare you realize with horror that it's your 13-year-old daughter, and “My, what is she wearing!” Your 11-year-old isn't rolling in dirt anymore, she's spending hours in the shower. Your 12-year-old no longer likes your jokes. Adolescence has struck.

New Tactics Needed

He may be taller than you, he may drive and pack his own lunches. He's still a child, still your child, and he still needs guidance, just not in the same way. Here are some things to keep in mind about the strange creature that has taken over your child's body and is living in your house:

  • Contrary to popular belief, your adolescent doesn't want a fight any more than you do. Look for the positive intent!
  • Many communication problems happen because parents and adolescent children have different world views and interpret events in very different ways.”
  • His “world view” is influenced by the natural hormones surging through his body. Between two people coming from such different perspectives, communication becomes even more important.
  • Your cover has been blown. Your adolescent is painfully aware that you are only human, and he may feel betrayed.
  • Your adolescent child is fragile and new, but he doesn't need to be protected against the world completely. Actually, he needs his limits reset wider.

Expectations, Again

Tales from the Parent Zone

Tania was a stormy child from day one; it's no wonder her adolescence has brought trouble and high drama. Tobias, on the other hand, was sunny and serene as a two-year-old, and calm and humorous as a teen. While it's true you cannot predict your child's experience in adolescence, you can sometimes get a clue as to what kind of adolescent your child will be by looking at her toddlerhood. Temperament is built-in, and the very challenging toddler may well be a challenging adolescent. (It's not foolproof—maybe she “got it all out of her” when she was two. Or, maybe she's grown into rebellion.)

Adolescence begins for different children at different times, and at different ages—social and physical. Often development is uneven (think of the husky, unshaven boy running around with toy cars “vroooooom vroooom!” and the skinny, undeveloped girl dolled up in sexy clothes).

The way you react to when and how your child's adolescence begins will largely be a function of your own adolescent experience. Parents whose middle name was “Trouble” will tend to feel distrustful of what their child is up to. Parents who had a great time in middle and high school (and who maybe are on the committee to organize the school reunions) tend to look forward to their kids' adolescence. Parents whose teen years were riddled with angst and social mockery will dread their child's own experience, and either threaten to place the child in deep freeze at 11 and remove her at 19, or buy that sailboat and take the family on a six-year round-the-world adventure.

Remember that you cannot predict what kind of adolescence your child will have, and you cannot predict how events in your child's life will play themselves out. Watch closely with interest.

Keeping Rebellion in Perspective

Behave Yourself!

From the time of toddlerhood, you've been your child's trampoline, something for him to propel himself from, something safe and bouncy to land on. When your adolescent leaps and pushes off from you, he's not deliberately hurting your feelings. He's pushing toward his adulthood, leaping toward that sky.

It's a Good Idea!

For some people, it helps to keep their own adolescence in mind. Did you really do those awful things? Did you really survive? (Most of us do. Our heads battered and bloodied, but unbowed.)

Rebellion and pushing against limits are part of being an adolescent, and part of establishing autonomy away from you. There may be some years where your child does everything she shouldn't, just to prove to herself that she can make her own decisions, and that she isn't you. If it's her job to separate, your job becomes the very tough one of staying sane. She needs something to push against after all.

Given a rebellious, hormonal child, how do you stay strong and reasonable? That's often a function of being able to keep some perspective on what's up with your child. The best way to gain perspective? Education. What's “normal” rebellion? What are all the other kids doing? (and just how miserable are their parents?). Knowing what to expect helps. Having a strong perspective will help you prevent, or deal with, the more destructive (and self-destructive) forms of adolescent rebellion.

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