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My Teen Thinks I'm the Most Annoying Person on the Planet

Two explanations for a teen's bad attitude and several ways to reconnect.

The response to “good morning” is an eye roll. An annoyed, “fine,” is the reply when asked about his or her day. A nonchalant comment about the blue sky is met with, “What!? It is PURPLE! God! Are you color blind!?” Parents are often treated like they are the dumbest people on the planet.

How and why does a pleasant, respectful, and kind child turn into a stinker overnight? There are two reasons. The first is developmental and the second is situational. Understand both and possess the tools to help the teen and salvage the parent/child relationship.

First, the nasty attitude is often compelled by a developmental phase called separation and individuation. Although this stage is annoying for parents, it is a necessary and important phase in adolescent development. In order to gain autonomy, the teenager may need to first differentiate from his or her attachment figures. For example, the daughter of a Catholic parent may question Catholicism and explore Buddhism. This is normal. Yet, a parent who is offended by the child’s need to temporarily split from parental ideals to formulate his or her own may unwittingly push the teen away.

Instead of taking the adolescent’s competing perspective personally, it may help if a parent views it as a natural part of growing up. A parent’s attempt to understand the young person’s opinion may instill trust in the relationship, and it does not require a parent to change the rules. Communicating an understanding of the teen’s perspective before reinforcing an expectation is all that is necessary. For example, “I understand there are a lot of things about Buddhism that you appreciate. I get it, and I support your stance, but we need to be respectful at Grandma’s funeral.”

A young person must progress through his or her own process before accepting or rejecting a parental value. It’s an important component of maturation. At first, the teen’s declaration of a differing value may be off-putting, but as the young person matures, his or her stance may soften. For example, a young woman who takes an environmental course in school may return home and condemn her parents for their carbon footprint. She may harshly criticize environmentally unconscientious practices and loudly vocalize her discontent. Yet, as she integrates into the world, she may be less critical of others because she realizes the immense effort it requires to actualize this ideal.

A parent who extends grace to a young person who is attempting to construct his or her own belief system is more likely to remain close to the teen, which means the teen may return to the values with which he or she grew up. If not, respecting the young adult’s opinions and accepting the reality that every human being is allowed to create his or her own "moral map" is important.

An additional developmental phenomenon inflating a teenager's oppositional attitude is referred to as the individuation process. Sassy, critical, and irritated, a teen often directs his or her negative attitude towards a parent. Although this is normal, many parents ask, “Where do I draw the line?” Good question. One recommendation is that if an adolescent is verbally aggressive, for example, name-calling, or physically aggressive, the parent needs to put an end to the behavior immediately. Confiscating the young person’s technology for a day or two often conveys a strong message.

Picking and choosing battles carefully may also help. Identifying your top four priorities early in the relationship may deter future power struggles. For example, the parent may feel the teen's first priority should be school. Second, his or her participation in a healthy hobby or activity outside of the home like soccer, orchestra, or ski club may be important. Completing two weekly household chores to assist his or her family may be the third. Taking care of his or her mental health by spending time outside and going for a daily walk, bike ride, jog, or practicing three-pointers in the driveway may be the fourth.

Partnering with the teen instead of nagging him or her may also be helpful. For example, “You’ve been on that phone for a while. Let’s take Lucky for a walk.” If the teen refuses, gently encourage him or her again and mention that spending time outside is critical for mental health. Provide him or her with a final directive to throw on a coat and come with. If the teen ignores the parent and refuses to follow through with the request, the parent may try turning off the Wi-Fi in the home until the teen is able to comply.

Getting flack from the stinker when reinforcing the four priorities is expected but the parent should follow through. Once non-negotiable rules are set, a parent needs to ensure they are followed. Of course, the power struggles which ensue are uncomfortable and exhausting but surrendering to a teenager’s excuses and fits may blur boundaries and encourage additional negative behavior. Ensuring the adolescent maintains a strong work ethic in school, good physical health, and an adequate mental health routine may create a lifelong balance of health and happiness.

A natural reward for handling priorities, whatever they may be, is privacy. Taking care of responsibilities may earn a teen some freedom. Teens need more alone time than younger children because they are investing in peer relationships that fulfill a developmental need. Spending some time away from the family and with friends is essential. A teenager’s confidants mirror and reflect who the teen is which helps him or her work through the developmental challenge of identity formation. Every step towards independence forces adolescents to think about who they are in relation to the world. It is an overwhelming and rigorous endeavor. Because a teen is in the process of consolidating his or her identity, it is vulnerable. This clarifies why many teens feel insecure and inadequate. Peers often reassure, resonate, and indirectly assist a young person in shaping his or her identity. Being accepted is a primary need. Sadly, this also explains the detrimental impact that a dysfunctional friendship has on a teen’s self-esteem.

If a toxic friend does appear on the horizon, a parent’s best bet may be to listen, empathize, and provide a safe space for the teen to talk through the experience. Supporting the teen while he or she sorts it out is imperative. Simultaneously, a parent’s ability to reflect and validate the teen’s selflessness, thoughtfulness, and empathy remind the young person of who he or she is, and also reinforce character over achievement. The teen’s deeper capacities are recognized and valued as much as his or her achievements. This assists the teen in avoiding perfectionistic tendencies and heightened anxiety.

Second, in addition to the developmental challenges a teenager faces, a situational stressor exists. The pandemic has arrested the development of many teens because they are majorly prevented from embracing developmental pursuits. Most of the developmental tasks listed above require the teen to be out in the world exploring, playing, excelling, and struggling. The fight for independence and the need to create a niche in the world is stunted by today’s circumstances. This may cause massive frustration, depression, anxiety, and fear in a teenager. Unfortunately, the negative feelings may be displaced onto a parent who is at home with the teen.

A parent may encourage the adolescent to take extra care of his or her mental health. Partnering with the young person and encouraging him or her to spend time in nature, engage in a mind and body activity such as Tai Chi and yoga, and laugh every day is critical. Showing the teen funny YouTube videos or watching comedies or comedic sketches may also be a good idea. Ensuring the teenager has access to his or her friends via technology or in very small groups may also help. Spending time cuddling with a pet also reduces a young person’s anxiety.

Frequently, due to the tension in the parent/child relationship during the teen years, it may be easier for the teen to open up to a therapist. A parent may embrace this opportunity to get some additional support with the stinker. Extreme changes in weight, an inability to sleep, and significant withdrawal from activities the teen previously enjoyed may indicate he or she needs professional support. Self-harm or suicidal ideation definitely require that a parent access help quickly.

A resilient teen usually makes up for a developmental lag quickly. It is unlikely the current situation will cause permanent damage. Yet, it is an extremely difficult time for young adults. Keeping this in mind may increase a parent’s empathy for a teen. In addition, teens usually return to their charming and kind selves after launching. It’s vital a parent hold on, stay empathic, follow through, and sustain strong faith in a son or daughter.


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