"Teens can seem so unreasonable and so rude," Laura Kussick, executive director of the Seattle-based Program for Early Parent Support, says. She's also the mother of a 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. For Kussick and her kids, conflicts sometimes arise around the hot-button issue of how much screen time they can spend on their electronic devices. Before she knows it, the sparks are flying in both directions.
When those sparks turn into a fiery inferno, what parent doesn't take it personally? Clinical psychologist Laura S. Kastner, co-author of Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for ParentingTweens + Teens, says, "You judge your child and judge yourself."
Don't try to reason with your teen when either of you is highly stressed. Don't expect your kid to suddenly see where he's gone wrong. Instead, stop the interaction and try what Kastner calls the CALM approach. Cool down and focus on your breath to help interrupt your own stress response. Assess your options for responding, which enlists the help of your thinking brain. Listen with empathy, whether or not you approve of your kid's behavior. Make a plan to move forward.
Pruning and rewiring of the brain's prefrontal cortex begins around age 12 and is largely to blame for teen reactions and risk-taking.
Kastner says, "Sometimes parents' expectations for kids' emotional control are too high and expectations about daily habits are too low." She offers this advice for parents who feel they need some help dealing with the volatility.
Create solid routines. Instead of trying to control your kid's thoughts and feelings, create and model firm family policies and routines to encourage responsibility and self-control. Start early -- no later than middle school.
Adopt good habits. With a few "house rules," parents can create quality family time and help their kids focus on the things that count. That includes prioritizing time together without distractions, limiting screen time, volunteering outside the home, and doing chores. Regular family dinners are also associated with less alcohol, tobacco, and drug use and less depression.
Encourage school activities. Kastner also advocates for tweens' and teens' involvement in school sports and activities, which creates a sense of belonging and fosters a range of social, creative, and physical skills.
One More Thing
"The brain is fertile for pruning until around age 21, so you've got a lot of time with this ‘garden' you're helping to grow. Modeling good behavior is one of your best tools." -- Patricia A. Farrell, PhD
Laura Kussick, executive director, Program for Early Parent Support.
Laura S. Kastner, PhD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, University of Washington; co-author, Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens & Teens,Parent Map, 2009.
Giedd, J. Nature Neuroscience, 1999.
Elsenberg, M. Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, August 2004.
Steinberg, Laurence. Beyond the Classroom: Why School Reform Has Failed and What Parents Need to Do. Simon and Schuster, 1996.