Why Teens Terrorize Us

Lisa writes: I have a teen in my house who is leaving in a few short weeks. Despite the fact that I know that it is only a matter of days until I will bemoan his departure, I am still surprisingly adept at flying into a rage at him. His need to assert his newly adult self and my need to control what happens in my home are too often on a collision course. Despite our deep and abiding love for them, teens continue to terrorize us, creating the type of stress that scientists have now begun to measure.

teenager, teen boy

One day your young person borrows your car, drives to a summer job and spends the day as an income-earning citizen fully capable of responsible employment. That very afternoon, your kitchen is trashed, there are dirty clothes carpeting the floor, and a well-established curfew has been dispensed with like it wasn’t even there. Your authority has been trampled. Your gas tank and refrigerator are empty, every inch of your car teems with discarded Gatorade bottles, beef jerky wrappers and trash that is simply beyond identification.

You remind yourself that this is what teens are like, alternately capable young adults and selfish self-involved children. You recall that it is the age, that they do not stay like this. If there are older children you throw your mind back to their transformation and then you turn around, willing yourself to be calm, and shriek, “WTF, that is the last time you borrow my car.”

I am alternately trying to figure out how to say goodbye to a child I love beyond reason and so apoplectic I cannot even speak to him. The seesaw that is raising a teen is a source of much stress. Some of it is undoubtedly my fault (or any parent’s fault) as we lurch around and grapple for steady ground as our children travel the rocky road to adulthood.

It is not me, it is the facts.

For any parent who thought the teen years were stressful, research has recently arrived to say just how right you were. A poll released this week by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio found that fully one-third of those adults living with one or more teens had experienced a great deal of stress in the previous month.

In the NPR broadcast highlighting this study and the trouble of living with teens, one mother explained, “I love this child more than I love myself, and I know what’s around the corner and I’m trying to tell him and he’s just ignoring me, and I really can’t say or do anything about it. I just have to let him experience it and hope and pray that it’s not a life-changing mistake.”

She continued,”Everything I demanded, he fought back. Advice? He didn’t need it. Conversation? He didn’t want it. It was hands down the toughest journey of my life so far….”

Dealing with Terrible Teens

In order to deal with their stress, Clinical psychologist David Palmiter suggests parents seek support from other parents, that they share concerns and decisions. Parents, dealing with their own teens can provide us with camaraderie, encouragement and constructive solutions. Sites like Grown and Flown can be a forum for just that kind of conversation about the Trouble with Teens!

It’s tough to retain your equanimity when teens lash out but University of Virginia Professor of Education and psychologist Peter Sheras urges parents to do otherwise. “What all this research really says to parents is, ‘Don’t freak out,’” Sheras says. “What you are experiencing, lots of other parents experience, too, so don’t take it personally when your child says, ‘I really hate you, Mom.’”

Teens terrorize us because:

They are neither one thing nor another. They are capable of being sane mature adults and petulant children, in the very same conversation. They have the bodies of grown ups and the emotional range of toddlers.

They are risk seeking missiles whose favorite phrase is “I got this” when it is patently clear that they’ve got nothing. Our protective urge is undiminished but our ability to assure their safety is vastly reduced. This alone can result in sky-high stress.

They routinely overestimate their competence in dealing with adult matters. Even in the face of bad outcomes teens can struggle to see either their fault or how they could have done things differently. As parents with a lifetime of experience, this is painful to watch.

They inhabit a world of very real consequences. Their missteps can have profound effects on their future (and on others) yet they struggle to understand the gravity of their attitudes and actions.

They live on an emotional rollercoaster and as Lisa Belkin pointed out, they want us to ride it with them. She so aptly explains that we do not need to climb aboard with them (although it takes parents a while to learn this) but this still means that there is a fairground ride operating in our homes.

It all happens so quickly and we can barely catch our breath. At age 14 only 13% of teens had used alcohol in the previous month by age 18 that number is 41%. Similarly before age 15, 16% of teens have had sex and four years later that number is 71%. By the time the leave for college 54% of kids have been sexting.  Much is changing in their lives, experiences and perspectives and as parents we can struggle to keep up.

It is just hard dealing with anyone, at any age, who already knows everything. This impenetrable fortress of knowledge is just one more battle ground in the fight between experience and the hubris of youth.

Adolescents confuse understanding with agreement.They think saying so, makes it so, according to Sheras, “They think if they explain something to you adequately, you will agree with them. So when parents say, ‘I’m not going to let you do that,’ adolescents almost universally say, ‘You don’t understand.’”

The influence of their peers outweighs ours. It is excruciating when you child values the insight of a peer (a mere child) whom he may have known for weeks or days, over the person who loves him the most and has his interest at heart (and BTW is an adult). It is hard not to wonder where their critical thinking has gone.

The balance has shifted. When our kids were small and we were unhappy with them or disciplined them, they got angry or contrite but they were not indifferent. If, in doing our jobs as parents of teens we make them unhappy, they may now withdraw. Punishing our kids always felt bad, but the silent treatment or their physical retreat makes it even worse.

I have long subscribed the U shape theory of parenting which suggests that the most challenging days are at the beginning and the end and that the sweet spot of parenting lies in the middle. I once told my brother that I would do a deal with the devil if my then 6, 9 and 10 year olds could stay little forever. The devil wasn’t buying and my kids became teens.

When Teen Music Went Silent

Mary Dell writes: At last week’s ceremony for the new Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellowship at Harvard, honoree rap artist Nas remarked  “Hip-hop is important like computer science. The world is changing. If you want to understand the youth, listen to the music. This is what’s happening right underneath your nose.” Though the value of computer science and the eternal bond between youth and music are indisputable, hip-hop is not anywhere near my nose. In fact, once Steve Jobs invented the iPod in 2001, the teen music we shared in our home went radio silent.

nas, lifeisgood, hip-hop music

 

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The Real Reason I Love Longhorn Football

Mary Dell writes: Fall is my favorite season. Along with the just-turning foliage comes the return of my preferred spectator sport – Longhorn football. My passion stems from the Friday Night Lights elements of my upbringing and the four years I spent in Austin as a student at the University of Texas.  I am a genuine Texas fan and spent many happy game days at DKR – Texas Memorial Stadium.  But the real reason I love Longhorn football is that our son is a big fan, too.  Now a fun and shared pastime, following the sport during his teenage years was more like a lifeline that kept our relationship afloat.

UT Football, Longhorns, college football, UT stadium, Texas Longhorns

While he was in high school, he developed the evasive skills that all teenagers acquire fielding questions from well-meaning neighbors, family members, and perfect strangers. Where do you want to go to college/ have you taken your SATs/ what do you want to major in? Against that backdrop of inquisition, we had moments when our disagreements over studying, tests, and college applications would have made for excellent reality television.

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A Last Lesson on the Importance of Friendship

Gabby, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: One of the good things about being a parent three times over is that I am more focused on life’s ordinary moments as my last child inches her way toward leaving the nest.  Recently, I was packing to go away for a rare “girls weekend” when my daughter sat down on the edge of my bed and asked me about the friends with whom I was traveling.  Ultimately, our conversation shifted into a philosophical one about her own friends and the importance of friendship.

I will readily admit my many failures as a mother but one of the things I am most proud of is the way I have communicated through action (and words) how much my friends mean to me.

importance of friendship, friendship, high school friends, high school girls

I am inordinately grateful and comforted when I look at my two older children who have already “flown the nest” and see the kinds of friendships they have established.  They demonstrate to me that they understand how to be loyal, inclusive, trustworthy, forgiving, and supportive in times of trouble.  They accept and celebrate differences. I am wowed by the way that they have chosen their inner circle (with an extended selection of friends beyond this)  based on “matters of the heart”  and common values.

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Mothers and Daughters, the Teenage Years

Mary Dell writes: Teenage girls travel in packs, migrating between friends’ houses. Over time, mothers and daughters from each family get to know one another well. When it is our turn to host a Friday night sleepover I am delighted. On Saturday morning, while serving pancakes, I pull up a chair with my daughter and her friends and join them for a chat.  Learning how to be welcomed (momentarily) into my daughter’s group, yet heeding the cue to disappear, are lessons I learned from my mother when she was the one wielding the spatula.

I recently asked my oldest girlfriends about their memories of those long ago school days. Here are some of the things they remember:

mother and daughter, teenage girl and mom in the 1970's

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11 Ways Social Media is Turning Us into Teens

Lisa writes: Facebook was developed by teenagers, for teenagers and I wonder if it, and its cousins Pinterest, Twitter, Reddit and Google+, are not turning us all into adolescents. Adults conduct their social interactions differently than teens and young adults but social media invites us to sound like our youthful selves. Social media is caught in time, in the student years, when most of us cared desperately about others’ opinions and were far less secure about ourselves.

With maturity we have less need to brag, and more need to deeply connect with others. Our ability to communicate has evolved and improved but the constructs we use in social media have not. Even as adults, we are using the tools of teens to communicate as we venture into social media, not always to the best effect. Here is the challenge to keep social media from turning us into teens:

1. On social media we clamour for the attention of those we barely know while, because of  its allure, we can overlook those seated at our own dinner table. The last time I ignored the people I lived with I was fifteen years old, the next time was when I got on Pinterest.
Facebook, twitter, social media ways of communicating
2. Teens like to complain, and parents learn to ignore it. Life isn’t always what we had hoped and accepting this is a defining characteristic of adulthood. Twitter is a complainer’s paradise full of first world problems and bragging, thinly veiled as complaints. 140 characters seems to be just the right number for whining.

3. Life is certainly not too short to type out entire words or phrases such as “never mind,” “talk to you later,” or even “awesome.” By midlife we know there will be enough time to type a word out in its entirety.

4. Adults value friendships for their depth and quality, but social media is all about quantity. Facebook is not the place for heartfelt conversations with three close friends, rather it is a place where we can delude ourselves into thinking we really have 3,728 friends.

5. True friendships, at any age, brim with good conversation focused on shared interests. Interchanges on Facebook and Twitter may be little more than a string of short, clever quips and sarcastic banter, with “Woo Hoo” and exclamation points thrown in for effect.

6. Social media promotes narcissism, or at the very least self-absorption. It beckons us to talk constantly about ourselves, showcasing our every move through photos to thousands of people who barely know us. The line between social interaction and bragging is constantly blurred.

7. Social media makes rude, not rude. Many teen boys become monosyllabic, grunting adolescents who, fortunately, outgrow this awkward stage. Social media allows us to think that one word answers are not rude and that the abbreviated vernacular of 13-year olds is acceptable.

8. Who would think that facial expressions with all their complexity and the range of human emotion which they convey can be replaced with small yellow faces tacked onto a message?

9. Social media means never having to be alone. Quiet solitude is something adults greatly value as a time for thought and reflection, but teens seem to constantly seek out social interactions and Facebook friends can always be found.

10. I was a Valley Girl and over the course of years I learned to stop saying “OMG,” “I can’t wait,” “so excited,” but when I got on Twitter, it all came rushing back to me. It was as if I could no longer speak like an adult if not given enough characters.

11. The average attention span may be shrinking across the generations but we are the adults, and by using the tools of our children, we hasten its demise. I am constantly tempted to text or Facebook message friends and family members instead of calling them. It is so quick and easy and it appeals to my sense of efficiency. But in doing so, I let go of that very human interaction that binds me to these people, and as an adult, I should know better.

Teaching Teens to Drive is Driving Me Crazy

As we write this we are teaching our youngest children to drive.  This is a path we have been down before, but as our impulse for self-preservation is undiminished, we still find it a bit frightening this last time. Learning to drive may be one of the great adolescent milestones but, for parents, it represents a major push back from our kids as they claim their independence from us. Truthfully, the whole process is driving us crazy.

Learning to Drive, inexperienced drivers, driving age

Mary Dell is teaching a daughter and Lisa is teaching a son, so in effect we are living on different planets. The one thing we share is the deep scary realization that we are placing a lethal weapon in the hands of children we love, but who we know to be only part way on their journey to maturity.

The adolescent brain craves risk in a way that it never will again and it is at this moment that we climb into the car, our nervous, or perhaps worse, over-confident teen behind the wheel and we say, “Daddy will be really angry if you get us killed, so let’s take it a step at a time.”

Driving with a daughter:

This is round two for me as our college aged son learned to drive at the same school, with  an almost identical car, and same parents. How could the results have been so different?

“Honey, you need to speed up a bit” is a direction I can swear to you I never gave to our son but have heard myself saying, somewhat incredulously, since our daughter passed her road test a month ago.  Apparently, mastering the on-ramps of freeways is curriculum that Drivers’ Ed delegates to parents.  Yikes!

Her cautious approach, while greatly appreciated by risk-averse parents, sometimes confuses other drivers.  I try to explain that fellow travelers expect behavior that is not perfectly polite. Behind the wheel is a time to be a bit pushy.

Signs that there is a girl assuming possession of the family car? Hand sanitizer at the ready, multiple pair of sunglasses for accessorizing needs, pastel key fob dangling from the ignition. These greatly appeal to me, especially as the car was more of a traveling locker room when driven with son.  Cleats, workout gear and multiple footballs infused the car with an incongruous scent of sweat and Axe body spray that endured even after our son left for college.

Driving with a son:

My youngest son is the fourth male in my family that I have helped learn to drive.  My husband was by far the easiest.  At 28 he had a full-blown sense of his mortality and of our impending child.  But now I am teaching a 16 year son to drive and this is just a sampling of what I have heard this week:

“When you are not in the car I am not going to drive like this, slowing down smoothly and speeding up smoothly, I am just trying to keep you from getting car sick.”

“How hard can it be, there are only two pedals and a steering wheel?”

After I pointed out that the oncoming traffic has the right of way when making a left hand turn and you cannot gun it and cut in front of them as he had just done, “Okay, I’ll give you that…”

“I am ready for the highway…come on, I have had my permit for three days and I have driven at 30 and 40 MPH, I am ready for the big time.”

“There is no way I am letting him pass me, getting passed is for wimps”

While I might joke about this on the page, as a parent we all have very big concerns about this monumental step that our adolescents take. Is this just young male bravado, or do I have real reason to worry?

Teen males are at higher risk of motor vehicle crashes. According to the CDC, the motor vehicle death rate for male drivers and passengers ages 15 to 19 was almost two times that of females.

In New York state 16 ½ year olds who have obtained their junior license are allowed a single non-family member in the car with them.  Nearby Connecticut allows no non-family members deeming them a distraction.  The facts however are very interesting.

When a male passenger was in the car, 25% of drivers (male & female) exceeded the speed limit by 15 mph or more, versus about 6-7% of drivers doing this when there were no passengers or a female passenger.

Are we having the typical experience?  Are boys really that much more daring and therefore a risk to themselves and others? Is their over confidence and fearlessness in the face of speed the huge danger that we think it is?

According to a 2012 study by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute: With peer passengers in the car, male teen drivers were almost six times more likely to perform an illegal maneuver and twice more likely to act aggressively before crashing than when driving alone. Conversely, female teen drivers rarely drove aggressively before crashing, regardless of the presence of peer passengers

The scariest moment isn’t when you first get behind the wheel with your newly permitted teen, or the time you have to shout, “you were not looking, you did not see that.”  but rather the moment you watch them drive away.  For them it is an unprecedented taste of freedom, only akin to learning to walk in its powers to liberate, but for parents it is the beginning of an unprecedented period of worry, and it turns out with good reason.

This is not to say that female teen drivers do not still face very large crash risks. The crash risk for both male and female teen drivers is highest for the first six to twelve months after they get their GDL restricted license, when they can start driving without parents in the car.

 

Teaching Teens to Drive is Driving Me Crazy By Grown and Flown Parenting From the Empty Nest

Surviving High School, It Begins in Sixth Grade

 

middle school challenges, junior highLisa writes: Ahhhh…the beauty, the certainty of 20/20 hindsight.  As my youngest nears the end of high school, I have reflected upon what qualities allow kids to perform at their best and enjoy their four years to the fullest. What were the most important things I could have done for my kids, starting in perhaps sixth grade, that would have impacted their chance of surviving high school and beyond?  Not surprisingly, they were not the things uppermost on my mind as my kids turned 12. If I had it to do again…

what to do in middle school

 

I would make sure that my child, if possible, was above average at a sport, music, art or another activity.  Not get-recruited-at-a-D1-school good, but get-picked-for-the-JV-team good. Part of high school is finding your place and that is much easier to do if you are selected for the field hockey team or given a role in the school play.  I know educators often advocate the benefits of being well-rounded, but competence and accomplishment breed self-esteem and social well-being.

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A Hotel Room of One’s Own

Hilton Hotel, Blogher, A room of one's own, room serviceI feel like I should preface this with telling you how much I love my husband and kids but am going to skip straight over that and tell you how much I love staying in a hotel without them.  This little lick of luxury does not happen very often but when it does, I savor every minute.

What’s so great?

Note to Self: on Parenting Teens

Lisa writes: Parenting teens can be an emotional whirlwind and in the heat of the battle it is easy to forget lessons learned the hard way.  So, note to self…

Teenage surfer, surfer

It is not your life, it’s his.

Your mother thought she knew what you were up to.

Sometimes it really is better if they don’t tell you.

Only spy if you really want to know. And answer that question first.  You can’t unknow something.

Everything is a phase, even the good stuff.

When he takes your breath away, leaves you proud beyond words, find those words and tell him again and again.  He really does want your approval.

Life does not owe them car keys or internet or cash.  The deal was food, clothing and shelter. If needed, take everything else away.

Every so often go in and look at him sleeping, it will all coming rushing back.

Sometimes your kid’s behavior is your fault, sometimes it isn’t, really hard to tell, so don’t take all of the blame.

Memories are worth the mess. Always.

Other mothers should never make you feel bad about your kid, not matter how much bragging they do.  If you do feel bad, shame on you.

He doesn’t mean it.

You will miss this.  Really.

I am the parent, he’s the child, repeat as many times as necessary.

Empty Nest: Fired, a Year Ago

From a Grown and Flown friend: A year ago, my daughter got her driver’s license.  It came as a bit of a surprise, having failed two driving tests prior to this important right of passage.  We had an extra car waiting in the driveway for her and, the next day after procuring her passage to freedom, she was ready to drive to school; she promptly scooped her sister into the vehicle and waved goodbye.  At that moment, I realized that I had been unceremoniously fired, and would begin to see the empty nest in sight.

Empty Nest, teenage daughters, high school girls driving

For the past 17 years, I have busily organizing their lives, schedules, and transportation to and from school; athletic events; after school activities; doctor’s appointments; and trips to see friends, to name a few.  This was often in fifteen-minute increments, several times a day, while fitting in my life (as it were.)  I complained about it constantly, feeling exhausted and stressed at the thought of making another 45-minute round trip to school on the Boston Post Road, a two lane country road that pretends to be a four lane highway.  It a competitive driving experience at all times.

To be free of all this should have been a moment of pure joy for me; instead I was woefully unprepared for my feelings of sadness and loss at my dismissal.  How did this happen?  How did I not see it coming?  Why was I not prepared for the “next step?”  What is the “next step” and why don’t I have one?

I have been sorting through these thoughts over the past year as my now senior has applied to college with her sophomore sister soon to follow.  As they leave the driveway each morning, I wave and tell them I love them, proud to be the mother of such capable young adults.  They are in command of their own lives and I am blessed to be part of who they have become.  That is the good part of the story.

The other story is that I miss them dreadfully and every time they leave the house for the rest of the day, I shed a tear or two inside, thinking of all that driving….it was very busy and it was very fun!  It pulls at my heart to let them go, but I know it is time.  Fired, indeed I was!

Oh, No, It’s Spring

Mary Dell writes: Today is the first day of spring.

first day of spring, 11th grade, standardized tests, high school pressure

Even the google doodle is celebrating!

Fantastic – the first daffodils are finally blooming at our house. Only one plant, it is a mini variety and sits on the edge of the lawn, next to the street.  Blankets of green stems with encased blossoms stand nearby, waiting their turn to open to the sun.  I steered the car to the curb, getting out to take a photo of the diminutive flower and began to free-associate.  Here is the mental path I walked during the moments between first seeing this harbinger of spring and pulling into the driveway:

Exciting, our first daffodils have bloomed!

Sweet little ones beat out the larger varieties, way to go!

I love spring, hurray that winter has ended!

That’s right, it’s March 20th, spring starts today.

Hmmm, so glad spring break is here for our 10th grader!

Wow, so glad she’s in 10th and not 11th grade.

Next year she’ll have spring break but then she’ll have to take all those tests  – SATS, APs, SAT2s, ACTs-awful!

Spring will be terrible!

Ok, it’s not really spring’s fault, don’t blame the plants.

Flowers.Daffodils IMG_4136

I sat in the car for a moment longer and wondered how something as innocuous as a flower had triggered a panic attack. Perhaps it was a sign, warning me against  viewing the world through the murky lens of college application season.

Flowers.Daffodils.IMG_4118

Thanks, Buddy, next time I’ll take the time to smell you, even though you’re no rose, but right now I have to make a call to get that summer test prep scheduled.

Snow Day, Please

Central Park, Winter, Currier and Ives, snow day in new york

Currier and Ives: fiction

Mary Dell writes: I have a request for some snow. Here, in suburban New York, we’ve had only a dusting or two, if you exclude our freakish October storm. With spring arriving March 20, there’s little time for my wish for a snow day to be granted.

Snowy mess, last winter, filthy snow

Last winter: reality

Don’t get me wrong. I am no big fan of the white stuff as it was never part of my Texas heritage. After I moved North, I initially saw its charm but now, after too many difficult winters, it has lost its appeal. Beyond the Currier and Ives look of the first flakes, I see shoveling, black sludge building up in the street, and icy patches tempting falls. But you can’t have a snow day without precipitation so, please, before it is too late this year, can we just have one day with 4,5…even 6 inches?

The urgency in my desire comes from knowing that we have just two more winters when our daughter will be at home. She’s sixteen and busy with school, sports, friends. Out the door at 7AM, she is gone all day until she trudges up the hill from the bus stop, exhausted and starving. [Read more…]

Today’s Teens Better Behaved Than Their Parents

Tara Parker-Pope reports in the February 5, 2012, New York Times Magazine, that today’s teens are engaged in less risky behavior than their parents were.  Whew….can we all breathe a sigh of relief?  She quotes Dr. John Santelli, president-elect for the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine who says There is a lot more media hype around the kids who are raising hell. There are a lot of kids who are pretty responsible.

teen behavior, today's teens

Read about it in Today’s Teens Better Behaved Than Their Parents – NYTimes.com.

 

Mom Clothes, Not Cool

Mary Dell writes: Winter in New York means cold days until just about Memorial Day. I put on my uniform: jeans, turtleneck, and boots or fleece moccasins which I will wear daily unless there is some really compelling reason for an outfit upgrade. Little did I know that my mom clothes would cause our children so much discomfort; the critique started the second day our son was home for winter break.

“Mom, the turtlenecks are not a good look,” he declared with the certainty that college students bring to most conversations with their parents.

teenage girl

 

 

“But they’re not my vintage LL Beans, they’re from J. Crew. That’s ok, right?”

He was not convinced. I didn’t even argue about how women my age prefer to cover up, and up. I thought about grabbing I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron’s wonderful book about aging, but decided otherwise.

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