Chances are if you're reading this blog, there's a teenager lurking somewhere in your life. Perhaps the teenager is living under your roof. Perhaps the teenager is living somewhere else. Regardless of where the teenager is physically living, one thing is for sure - wherever a teenager travels; emotional chaos can be found in their wake.
And such is the nature of the teenage years. The period from around 11 to 20 is without a doubt one of the most chaotic periods of our human existence. During this time, our bodies and minds go through rapid and tumultuous changes. These changes are marked by overwhelming and often uncontrollable emotions, lack of judgment, poor impulse control and high-risk behaviors. Yes, I know. It's enough to make parents pull out their hair.
But before you find yourself bald, spend some time educating yourself and your teenager as to what's going on inside a teenage brain and come up with a plan of action that will help you navigate this turbulent period of life together.
Essentially, what's going in your teenager's brain is that it's going through its second major growth spurt. During this period, the part of your child's brain responsible for impulse control, decision-making, planning and organization begins to develop in earnest. And while this development happens rapidly, it can't quite keep up with the hormonal changes that are also occurring. As a result, teenagers are ruled by their emotions and often incapable of responding in mature and logical ways.
So now that you have an idea of what's going on from a physical standpoint, what's a concerned, but frustrated parent to do? In the following paragraphs, I have outlined a general course of action that can guide your thinking and actions through this challenging time.
Educate and Explore - Together
Remember that both you and your teenager feel frustrated, angry and out of control. Draw on this connection and explore it together. After cooler heads prevail, make some time to talk to your teenager about the feelings you felt after he or she had an emotional outburst. By identifying your feelings, you will assist your teenager in identifying and managing theirs.
Spend some time each week exploring the wealth of information on the Internet that discusses what is happening in the teenage brain and body. The best of these sites are the interactive ones that contain diagrams.
Listen, Listen, and Listen - then Talk
Think of yourself as a container that holds your teenager's emotional vomit (sorry, it's a harsh metaphor, but one that you must admit captures the essence of what's going on.) In listening without responding or reacting while the outburst is going on, you are teaching your teenager that emotions are manageable and need not rule your lives.
Remember, what your teenager needs most is for you to model reason, logic and objectivity - not anger, frustration and intolerance. Also remember that they listen to what you do far more than what you say.
Talk about the outburst only after both of you have settled down and have regained your composure. Avoid trying to engage in a conversation during or immediately after an emotional meltdown. There's plenty of time after things have cooled down to talk about what happened.
Above all else, keep reminding yourself that the teenage years are just a phase that you and your child are passing through. Although this time feels like it will last forever, the truth of the matter is it will not. Yes, the teenage years are challenging, chaotic and just plain crazy, but they can also provide countless opportunities to connect with your child in a loving and healthy ways.