Question: My 12-year-old, who has been my joyful, full-of-life boy, has been stomping around in a huff regularly. It’s hormones, I’m sure. But how can I help him get through life without being in a huff all the time and me getting frustrated and annoyed at his eye-rolling, stomping, under-the-breath sarcasm?
Answer: You have asked the quintessential question of all parents of tweens and teens. “How can I understand my hormonal child, not make it worse, all while still leading my family?” So far, I have not met one person who has discovered how to do this neatly.
There are so many things happening within a 12-year-old: hormonal changes, tremendous neurological growth and incredible cultural pressure to belong to peer groups. And, of course, the academic pressures that many 12-year-olds face, the longer school days, less outside time, and the increased time watching screens.
Being 12 in 2015 is no walk in the park.
But instead of expecting rudeness, let’s expect more from our youngsters in the way of responsibility, good intentions and agreeableness. And most important, we parents need to expect more from ourselves.
And yet do less.
We are over-parenting our young teens, mucking around with their natural development. Fussing too much with any living thing messes up the maturation process. When we become so obsessed with growing the perfect tomato, for example, we can forget that we are working with an entire system. There is a seed, the seed needs the right conditions, there is growth in fits and starts, there is a flower, and then there is the tomato.
Children are similar. They are born, we create the conditions, we remove obstacles and tend to their lives, and then we wait.
This 12-year-old is emerging. He needs room to grow and he needs strong boundaries. And so the question is not “Do I discipline my child?” Because yes, you do, especially if you define discipline as placing order upon chaos. Rather, the question should be: “When do I discipline, and how does this discipline look?”
First, you make sure the 12-year-old is deeply rooted to the family. You will have no traction with a young man who does not feel strongly attached to you, so dedicate your attention to your son. Note that I am not saying gobs and gobs of time. Rather, be fully there when you are with him. Get into his world, ask about his points of view, ask about his friends and what is going on. Do not offer judgments or critiques. Be a listener.
When he is rude, take note of how that dynamic took place, but remain wary of trying to persuade him to be different in the moment. Look for patterns: When do you notice the rudeness is occurring most frequently? Is it hunger-related? Fatigue? Is it every single time you speak to him?
Looking for patterns puts you in the driver’s seat. You stop constantly reacting to every infraction. You may begin to realize the behavior is not as personal as it first seemed. And seeing the patterns can lead you to another way.
So think about what other ways you can connect with your son that will bring about some ease in the relationship. For instance, is he very prickly about housework? Then think about how you can rejigger the chores so that he has the power to do them without being reminded. Is he annoyed with virtually any question you ask him? If yes, then work on being quiet while you are near him on hikes, while shooting hoops, browsing the bookstore. You are not locked in to speaking as a form of loving communication.
And when things are bad, and you both are hurting, assume that he is doing the best he can. When it feels like your 12-year-old is unlovable, try statements like, “I know you, and I know you care about your homework.” Or, “I know your heart. I know you love your sister.” In your head, you may think, “This kid is rotten!” But as parents, we are obligated to assume the best about our children, and in doing so, that gives them hope. After all, who else will assume the best about our children if we don’t?
Finally, just like the crying baby and the toddler tantrums and the sassy 4-year-old phases, this can pass. I don’t say “will pass,” because we all know stories where the tweens and teens become more and more poorly behaved.
So do whatever you need to do to help this pass: Complain to friends or a therapist; hang up a sign, “This too shall pass,” watch funny stuff (frequently); find a mentor who has older boys; plan a trip for yourself or with your spouse.
Give yourself a break.
So, don’t do more. Slow down. Notice the little things about your son, notice the patterns and decide on another way. This way will be totally your way and can be changed whenever you want. You can do it.
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