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Raising Demanding Teens

How a teenager can ruin a marriage and other tales …

In his book, “Yes your teen is crazy,” Michael Bradley, reminds us that there’s a difference between normal and abnormal. While its unwise to be married to labels, distinctions do matter.

  • Normal is your teen tried some beer and came home late with his friends. You scolded him, and it never happened again. He may not want to talk to you for awhile, but he is a teenager. They give narcissism a bad name.
  • Abnormal is when your teen can’t sleep for weeks at a time and he’s experimenting with many drugs at once; he seems withdrawn, and no longer sees his friends, except online. He may talk to you, but he has lost his way.

In her guest blog today, Donna Moss talks about raising healthy teens while keeping your sanity.

How Teens Test:

It is summer time , and teens test us. They want the keys to the car, some money in their pocket, to wake up late and yes, to be rude. Most are just noisily moving along to becoming wonderful “grown children.” In the case of teens we know now that their brains aren’t fully developed until they’re even 25 or 26 in some cases. Most simply grow up. So that said, how do we know when to say yes and when to say no?

How do we know what your teen can handle?

And then let’s assume you’ve figured that part out. You have a terrific kid who gets good grades and has decent friends and still you are bogged down with his constant demands and needs. You and your husband thought you would have time to share and slow down but instead you are running to test meetings, SAT prep, Driver’s Ed, and college visits.

And it’s bloody expensive too!

Now the stakes are suddenly higher. All at once it’s not “everybody plays” but “my kid is doing better than your kid and let’s keep it that way!” The competition becomes fierce and the kids feel this in their bones or, they check out and say, “I don’t want to play at all!” or “I don’t care!”

You worry if they are moving off track. And, you understand, because you were a teenager once yourself.

Identifying With Your Teen:

Parents struggle deeply with reliving their own teenage foibles: how much to share and how much to conceal. My husband, for example, hitch-hiked across the country during high school. That’s right; he left high school for several weeks right in the middle.

Suffice to say it was a different time. He also went on to complete law school and social work school after taking a year off between high school and college. Believe me it wasn’t known as “gap year” then. He is open and honest with our teen and pre-teen. Though I appreciate his ease and honesty, I cringe that he may transmit unwittingly to their ok-ness with not-ok-ness.

Teenagers & Your Marriage:

I operate from fear so I must watch myself, a goody-goody, and watch him, a bad-ass. But it’s the constant watching that informs our marriage. He’s out of work, I work full time. If I don’t trust him with my teens, then who do I trust? If I am not for me, how am I for him?

  • How do I let go and accept that they will make their own mistakes?

It’s probably one of the most painful ways for a parent to grow. But dangers lurk everywhere for these kids, not just a fling with dating, substances, and eating disorders, but real unanticipated and irrevocable dangers like abduction, STD’s, pregnancy, and drunk driving. How do you as a couple face head on the absolute terror of this existential reality?

  • Joey came with (test) anxiety. A tenth grader, he had good grades but for Math, and his girlfriend broke up with him before the junior prom. He was sinking into a depression and asked to be hospitalized. I called an emergency family meeting and he was able to say plainly that he just needed help and attention. We averted the hospital thank goodness, and I encouraged the parents to provide more structure. Each day he had to check in and keep a log of his feelings. He could do as he pleased so long as he participated in family dinner and completed his projects. His parents came together to tell him that they were going through a hard time: NOTHING TO DO WITH HIM. Boy was he relieved. They promised to seek help and thanked him for uniting the family. Math came up to acceptable and a crisis averted.

Joey was upset, after all, he did after all lose his girlfriend. But, his unhappiness was part of a larger family problem. In family therapy we call Joey the INDENTIFIED PATIENT. His unhappiness mirrored the larger unhappiness of the family.

Family Counts:

A family oriented therapist can help a teen a great deal. It’s simply the family REINFORCING and even RECKONING with many of its problems that will help the teen and the marriage. Yes, Joey’s family was hard; and, stepping up was an effort. Plus, with all the unhappy moving parts of a family system, there were no guarantees even still.

This case reflects an important principle. Marriage is important and raising your teen is equally important. But, both marriage and your teen are encompassed by a bigger entity, the family.

When members of a family realize they’re essentially on the same team , many teens may, in turn, feel supported, if not validated. Sometimes that is enough. It was for Joey (and for his parents).

The Challenge of Marriage & Teens:

Best way I know is to talk honestly. Pema Chodron, a Buddhist writer talks of “meaningless broken heartedness.” The trick is to stay with it, stay with your marital discomfort, and ride the waves of despair and hope . And then you simply exhale and wait for the kid to not say, “You guys were real schmucks,” but rather, “hey thanks for sticking with me.”

The rest is up to you.

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To find out more about Donna Moss, MSW see: www.donnacmoss.com

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