When your teenager is grumpy, monosyllabic and irritable, do you find yourself taking it personally, and then, perhaps, even confronting them about it only to find it may have made things worse? Please keep in mind that their grouchiness almost always has nothing to do with you. The answer is to not engage, yet our temptation is to over engage! Here are some tips for staying out of our teenager’s moods and allowing them to get on with the important business of adolescent development:
- Teenagers are often grumpy simply due to the incredible chemical mix of hormones careening through their bloodstream, not to mention rapid changes to their brain composition. They really can’t help it! Just keeping this in mind can stave off the temptation to take it personally.
- One recipe for disaster is demanding an instantaneous attitude adjustment. Almost all parents do it at one time or another, saying something like “If you don’t get it together and act like a human being, you can forget about using my car this Saturday (or this week, or this month, or just ever).” It rarely helps eliminate the grumpiness and often accelerates the conflict, potentially resulting in ruined dinners and slammed doors. Instead, try to give your teenager some breathing room. Frankly, it can be far more productive to ignore them and go about your life, affording them the time and space to naturally move from one mood to another.
- You can always leave the room when your teenager is in a bad space. As parents, we are used to telling our kids to go to their rooms, leave the dining room table, or skedaddle from the den. Try being the one who leaves. Go do a chore in another room, go out for a ride, or enjoy some down time while reading a book or pursuing a hobby. Without an audience, many teenagers change their mood on their own, but at the very least, separating yourself preserves your equanimity and prevents unwanted escalation. You are not a prisoner of their mood, and they need to see you have your own full life, filled with interests and events.
- Does your teenager sometimes blame you for their lost possessions in the morning before school, or on the way to an activity? Do they enlist you in their panic as they look for their misplaced chemistry book or soccer socks? Try just steadily getting ready for your own day, going out to the car to wait for them, or leaving for work. It gives them the opportunity to calm down and find what they are looking for in a less charged atmosphere.
- When your teenager is in a better space for conversation, do not use it as an opportunity to berate them for their moody behavior. Try to view it as an opportunity to reconnect, support and be present for your child as they navigate their way to adulthood. If your teen cursed at you or used other aggressive language, by all means address them about it, but at a more neutral time and most certainly not when they are about to open up and talk to you after a bout of adolescent angst. (That said abusive or violent behavior is never acceptable and requires the intervention of professionals trained to deal with defiant teenagers.)
- Keep in mind that one word answers are often just a way for your teen to create distance between the two of you. Good for them! They are doing some of the really hard work of parent-child separating for you. No matter how close we want to be to our kids, they really do need their own lives. When they experiment with pulling away, we often take offense or feel hurt. Remember the ultimate goal for all parents is to raise an independent and fulfilled adult. Teenagers can’t just say, “Mom, Dad, I am beginning the healthy and inevitable process of creating my own life separate from yours.” Instead, they might just answer every question with “fine."
Please remember that teenagers are pretty self-involved and that their actions and reactions are about them and not you. Allowing for a small bit of healthy detachment as well as space to manage the onslaught of chemical changes is not only supportive of your teenager, but it can also reduce unproductive conflict.