The terrible fourteens

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
No matter how much they seem to be trying to rile us, teenagers do need us to be the rock, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

A month or so ago, I wrote about how things seem to start becoming unstuck once youngsters pass their second birthday. The temper tantrums often become quite exceptional and can be extremely stressful.

Wind the clock forwards 12 years and, guess what, you're likely to find that it's all happening again, but much more dramatically and often more verbally vicious.

There's much the same basis of physical and emotional frustration and growing pains on the path to greater independence as for the 2-year-old.

However, 12 years on they know us so much better and know exactly how to push our buttons and to send all our best intentions to stay calm and reasonable flying out the window - yet again.

It's a bit like the chain reaction of a nuclear explosion and sometimes just about as destructive.

When all hell breaks loose, the best thing we can do is walk away. It can be so tempting to stay put, but the danger is that, if we get angry, the outcome will be bad for both parties.

If you feel you have to win because you're right and decide to match the rant with one of your own, you have, at that very point, lost. What's more, you begin to model the exact same behaviour you don't want to see in them.

If you do decide to walk away, let your teen know that that's exactly what you're doing because you don't want to lose your temper and because you're not prepared to engage with them until they've calmed down.

Besides, when your teen is blowing apart, you're not going to get any reason or a logical response.

If you decide to stay with it, it's best not to feed the fire. Listen to them, even say "I'm listening" and try to avoid answering back or being drawn into the anger. Saying as little as possible isn't a weakness and it isn't giving in; it's actually a strength. Staying calm can take more energy, in fact, than letting rip.

Once you've heard all you feel you need to hear, let them know: "I've heard what you said and I'm happy to discuss it when you've calmed down. Until then, nothing changes." At that point, again, a good strategy is to walk away.

No matter how much they seem to be trying to rile us, teenagers do need us to be the rock that they beat against until they run out of steam and until they learn for themselves that there are other ways of dealing with problems.

Surprise them. Be that rock. Let them pound against you and, when the storm has passed and the waters calmed, talk.


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