Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Teenage Meltdown

Parents Just Don't Understand
Parents Just Don't Understand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Kellie Olsen

Tantrums? Screaming and yelling over homework? Complete lack of interest in school?

So many changes are happening in the life of a teenager such as changing friendships, dating issues, and "horrible teachers".

When so many things are uncertain and changing, what can you do to keep things calm at home?

For over a decade, I have experienced the daily dealings of teens.

As a teacher I would see the negative side of them come into my classroom tired, angry, crying, and at times ready to fight.

Teachers expect a student to be mostly focused on education, but that isn't always the case.

On many occasions, I would experience mini episodes of a juicy talk show or reality television program. Yet while every teen is different, there are some common themes that appear when the meltdowns happen. Boys in general seem to respond by dissociating or avoiding school responsibilities while girls may lash out verbally and emotionally.

One of the most common conversations I have had with parents of teenage boys involves a concern over lack of interest in school. Their focus may be on sports, girls, or video games. When we meet as a group, the parents just don't understand why their son isn't completing homework or studying for tests.

What can we do? How can we get him back on track? When you ask the young man what is happening, the most common response I get is, "I don't know." And when pushed for a reason for the behavior we often hear, "Fine, whatever. I said I'd do it."

Girls are a little different. When they walk through the front door of the school, many girls seem to transform into social butterflies. The connections and bonds they develop with other peers are more important than classroom activities. Often they act out by dressing in an inappropriate manner which leads to being asked by school personnel to change. This many times leads to additional behavior issues as perception by peers is more important than creating a friendly learning environment.

Girls often have a revolving door of friendships. At the beginning of the year I always tell them never to share their locker combinations because people who are your friends this week will most likely be your enemies next week. It is a weekly occurrence to see girls crying in the hallway or in class because of a problem with a classmate.

When grades start to slip and parents request a conference, the meetings can be intense. Often the response is an emotional one. On a number of occasions I have had to remind the girls that they need to speak respectfully to the parents as girls have a tendency to lash out.

No parent wants to hear, "I hate you." Yet, for parents with teenage girls there is a good chance you might experience this at some point. It's as if parents have never experienced the stress of school, dating, or life. "You don't understand!" And in some respects, teenage girls might be right.

There are so many new pressures that are being placed on teenagers these days. While there has always been the stress of "status" or being accepted in a certain group, kids now deal with new types of bullying like cyber bullying. Unfortunately it is easier to call someone out on social media sites, embarrass them online, or tell them to kill themselves via text message.

When dealing with teenagers, certainly a dose of understanding is important. So what can parents do at home to help their children? My top two suggestions - communication and consistency. As much as a teenager would disagree, setting boundaries is what they want most.

Kids need to know what is expected of them from a set curfew to expectations for completing school work. But they also need to feel as they have been heard. This doesn't mean you have to agree with what they say, but it may lead to a little more cooperation if you hear them out first.

Let's be honest ... teenagers do a lot of dumb things. I am sure we can all think of a time or two when we wish we could take back something we did. The important thing to remember is that we learn from these dumb mistakes. Every wrong turn is an opportunity to learn.

Too often we assume that kids know what they were supposed to do, just like we assume they know how to use their textbooks to study. But if no one shows them the way, how can they possible know?

This is where communication comes in. Instead of asking why they did something, try what as in "What reason was behind that decision?" It takes the blaming tone away that teenagers tend to hear and opens up room to learn what is going through their minds.

This gives you the chance to hear if there is a gap in what you think they should know, and what they really understand. And when you find that they really don't know something, you have a great chance to lead the way and share your own knowledge.

Recently I experienced this with my nephew. He started a new job near where I live and asked to stay with me. We quickly learned that he needed guidance on how to make a budget when he blew through an entire paycheck in one week. I had assumed that he was taught how to balance his income with his expenses, but I was wrong.

While we both had to address his financial concerns for the second week, it led to a great discussion and a wonderful learning opportunity. We even had a chance to talk about creating a savings account and money for college. But this wouldn't have happened if I didn't take the time to find out what he was thinking.

Along with communication, parents need consistency. I am sure you have heard the phrase, "Say what you mean and mean what you say." The first thing to keep in mind is don't create a reward or consequence you are not willing to keep. If you recognize that your son is up too late playing video games and you want him to go to sleep, don't threaten to take away the game system unless you mean it.

The moment you don't follow through, he knows that you are all talk and not to take you seriously. If your daughter isn't completing homework because she is spending all of her time online and on the phone, what options do you have available? Don't feel bad taking the computer and phone away.

Sure there will be a fight initially, but all storms eventually run out of rain. Sure you could give in, but is it in your daughter's best interest? What lesson do you really want your teen to learn?

Another aspect of consistency is helping your teen create a routine. When should homework be completed? If you leave it up to them, many teens will wait until right before bed when they are too tired to actually focus. With so many things grabbing their attention, it is hard to prioritize what is most important.

This is especially true for teens that are involved in sports or other extra curricular activities. When does homework get completed if they have band practice at 4 and traveling basketball at 7 pm? We can't assume they will know how to manage all of these tasks especially when we struggle with the very same things as adults.

Guidance is important, but what if you struggle with prioritizing tasks yourself? Seek help. Maybe an aunt or grandma could be the lead example on this one. Have your teen list all the things she would like or must do during the week. Then plan how it will get completed. Sometimes just "seeing it" laid out in front of them helps teens to plan.

One final note - parenting is not easy. You know that. And just as your teen makes mistakes, so will you. And that's okay. But it's those parents that show they care that make the biggest impact on their kid's lives. Model what you would like to see from your child.

Sometimes that means sitting at the kitchen table balancing bills while she completes homework. Maybe it is showing your son how you went about studying for a math test. And when your teen is struggling to understand Shakespeare, maybe you turn off the television and read it with him.

Ultimately you as the parent will make the greatest impact on how your child handles the struggles of being a teenager. When tempers flair or grades drop, communication and consistency are key to defusing the teenage meltdown.

Looking for creative ways of helping your child succeed in school without the daily fights over homework? Consider working with an Educational Coach. Focus by Design can help.

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