I am going nuts. I have a teenage daughter (age sixteen) who has turned into a totally obnoxious individual! She used to be a sweet girl, but for the past year or two, things have been getting more and more out of hand. I don’t think that I have made a request of her, made a comment, or tried to engage her in conversation without some kind of response that involved a major sigh, eye-rolling, or exasperation (“whatever”) in the tone of her response. It has gotten to the point where I spend very little time with her. I am really not interested in being with her, and, sadly, she doesn’t seem to want to spend time with me either. On the rare occasions that I have tried to spend time with her, it usually results in some kind of meltdown, and not just on her part. Is there anything that I can do in this seemingly helpless situation?
Given Up Mommy
Dear Given Up Mommy,
Welcome to the world of teenagedom! Many might call it teenagedoom, because, well, this is a very difficult point in development for both the kids and their parents. Parents everywhere can relate to your tales of woe, and many a potentially or previously good relationship can get either temporarily or permanently derailed around this time in a teen’s life. But, there are things that parents can do to try and make things better for all involved.
The first thing that you should try very hard to remember is that the teenage years are not just hard on the parents. This time in a child’s development wreaks havoc for the teen as well. Their bodies are changing, hormones are surging, and their brains are rapidly evolving as well. All of this is extremely disconcerting for them, and they are not even consciously aware of these feelings. For example, research has shown that the sleep cycle for a teenager shifts. Their bodies naturally want to go to sleep later, and consequently, they want to sleep longer in the mornings. Given the way most people’s schedules work, this is obviously not something that most teens can do, so many of them walk around perpetually tired. Coupling their constant state of exhaustion with body changes that may leave joints slightly achy and hormones grossly surging, and you get one unhappy person.
In terms of the emotional aspect of your relationship, remember that it’s up to you to be a stabilizing force in your child’s life. Make time every day to just spend time with her. There is probably some point in the day when she is more amenable to talking, and you should make every effort to be available then. Use this time just to chat. No requests, no reminders about the wet towel left on the toilet, just a time to schmooze. You may want to try and engage in this by “bribing” her with a favorite activity: going shopping, getting some pizza, going out for ice cream. You may meet with some initial resistance, but over time, with consistent, gentle effort, you should see some improvement.
If she is not willing/able/wanting to talk to you, then you talk to her. Tell her about your day, how things are going, something good or bad that happened during the day. This helps in different areas. First, you are teaching her some important skills, which include making small talk and sharing things about yourself. Second, by engaging her about your day, this will eventually encourage her to share things with you about her day. While you are talking to her about yourself, watch that it is not a ten-minute monologue, but rather that you offer pauses and other ways for her to join in.
Teenagers, like all of us, need to feel valued. Ask her what she thinks about different things in the house. These things could include what to make for dinner, what to wear for an evening out, where to hang a new picture, and how to handle a dilemma that you are experiencing. You are not obligated to necessarily follow her advice, but if you are asking her, then you must be willing to take it seriously, and you should on occasion follow what she says.
Make a point of reminding yourself everyday all of the positive aspects there are about her. “Nachat (appreciation) Reminder Moments” are useful for the parent, especially when there are seemingly few of them. Take out the baby album, watch her when she’s sleeping, or call upon a favorite memory to help sweeten your opinion of her on a daily basis. Even better, making a point of telling her about your special memories will make her feel good as well.
There is a famous book in contemporary Jewish literature called Planting and Building, a book on child rearing. The author, Rav Wolbe, talks about how a relationship with your child, like all relationships, takes time to develop and nurture. Like a growing thing, it needs to be cultivated and cared for to help it reach its potential. Therefore, it is important to focus on what your ultimate goal is for you and her. It sounds like you want to have a relationship with her, and that you would like to be close. This takes time, energy, and patience. Invest in your relationship with her by remaining calm in the face of her distraught behavior. By being a stable force for her, it will help her feel more stable. As mentioned previously, since teenagehood is such a time of upheaval, you are giving her a tremendous chesed by being calm.
I know that it’s challenging, frustrating, and seemingly bears little reward, but if you give it time, you will see how things will improve. Like a seed takes time to grow and reach its full status as a plant, so does your child need the same attention and care to reach her potential. Try to hang in there—being a teenager doesn’t last forever.