The 14 year old Shit Show
Having a 14 year old can be a challenging time. Actually it can be nothing short of a shit-show if I am honest. And yet it is a perfectly normal developmental stage; albeit one that many parents dread. Politely it can be referred to as The Age of Attitude - in more realistic terms it is The Age of the Arsehole.
So there is something about 14 year olds that seems to make them turn into ... a person you would prefer not to be around. That was my polite way of avoiding saying all those things we say in our head but rarely out loud. Maybe I should say them though? Maybe by actually putting the words on paper, other parents will connect and feel less isolated? Ok, let’s do this: There is something about 14 year olds that turns them into smart-arse, bitchy, lazy, snarky, lying, mentally and emotionally draining right royal little bitches or bastards (as it is not gender specific). Phew! Well I have either lost you as a reader or you are wanting to fist-bump me right now!
When I hear a parent start to say “I need help …” or “OMG I am going to kill her/him…” or “I have had it up to here with… ” - it usually is followed with a “my 14 year old”.
The thing with the 14 year old is that it is soooo easy for them to push your buttons. It is like this special talent they have tapped into! They seem to have jumped to ‘expert level’ on alll the many ways in which they can push your buttons. Snarly attitude. Salty looks. Blatant disregard for the rules of the household. And what seems to be the ultimate level of disrespect and rudeness towards you. It is enough to drive the most calm and in control parent to insanity. Throw in a crappy day at work, the stress of the bills due this month, and being in the middle of cooking dinner that no one has offered to help with, one surly remark from your teen can make you want to just lose it (and they know it).
What is so normal about being an arse? What is in fact happening is a mixture of a conscious and unconscious cognitive developmental stage. They are pulling away from childhood and all it’s cushy kiddie, safety, and launching headlong into full grown adult. On the outside it seems like they are confident in everything, but scratch the surface and you will find that behind this want-to-be-adult facade is in fact the child who is as equally scared and taken back by the way they are acting/thinking. To be honest, it can be quite a scary time for the 14 year old.
I do not need to go into examples of what a 14 year old typical behavioural issue may be. I do not need to go into how stressful this stage can be (for both the teen and the parent). But what I will try and tease out is the normality of this stage. The hope is that if you understand that the shitty crappy behaviour is not always something they can control and that when the words “This is so unfair, I hate you!” is being screamed at you, what could really being said is “This all feels so unfair, I don’t understand, I am scared and I hate this! Please help me!”.
It is easy to blame hormones, and to a degree it is correct. According to “The Teenage Brain”, by FrancesJensen, MD, the sex hormones (testosterone, progesterone and estrogen) are particularly active in the area of the brain, the limbic system, that is the emotional epicentre. This directly impacts on the emotional outbursts, and why everything seems like a massive drama! It is a chemical overload that manifests into an overwhelming emotional outburst: be it anger, frustration, tears, or drama.
Pretending to be grown ups is not only scary and confusing for 14 year olds, it is also exhausting. Exhaustion plus fear/confusion will ultimately result in melt down. Come on adults, we ALL know this! We are doing the same! It is utterly pointless in throwing petrol on a fire to try and extinguish it. We know that, and yet so many of us do exactly that when we engage in a fight with our 14 year old.
The thing that parents often forget, myself included, is that we expect our young unexperienced teen, the one without maturity on their side, to be able to control their emotions and not feel overwhelmed by situations. And yet I often hear parents tell me how they completely lost their shit at their teen. If we want our teens to behave better during this stage we must take it upon ourselves to keep our own reactions and responses in check.
We need to lead by example and if that means having to count to ten a BILLION times to defuse the situation, then that is what we should do, (well maybe not a billion, but you know what I mean). We should be able to assert our authority and be the adult without resorting to hysterics. A hint here, if you end up at hysterics frequently, then your teen will see your hysterics and raise the stakes on you. What this does is diminishes the effectiveness of your hysteria and just gives them a mental mentor to beat. In all seriousness, if you are hitting hysterics more often then not, then get yourself some help first.
Find your strategy for understanding your teen and their situation, and then your strategy for dealing with the drama as maturely and with as much emotional intelligence as you can muster. Please note, your strategies will need to evolve and change as your teen gets older. But for the 14 year olds, use this time to set some good foundations for addressing conflict. You as a parent of a 16 year old will thank you for the hard work, I promise.
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