This Can't be Normal! by Jen Hamilton, School Psychologist/ Licensed Educational Psychologist
I can't properly express how often I get calls from concerned parents who feel that their young teen's behavior is simply not normal.
"Why does my son lock himself into his room all of the time?"
"She won't talk to me in the car anymore, she just puts her headphones on and ignores me!"
"Why does he use such a rude and sarcastic tone with me or just give one-word answers when I ask about his day?"
"My daughter seems disgusted with me all of the time... we used to be so close!"
Parents worry that their children have become depressed, belligerent, or anti-social and they are often shocked to hear that actually their kids are delightful at school!
How can this be?
The simple answer is twofold: First, we all have our "private" selves and our "public" selves. When kids are at school, they expend tremendous energy focusing, concentrating, fitting in with peers, being respectful to teachers, being good.
When they get home, they can finally let their hair down and relax. Ideally, our children know that they are unconditionally loved so this is their time to stop trying so hard.
Think about it... how do you act at home? Are you equally polite to your spouse and children as you are at a business dinner or a job interview? Don't worry that your child's behavior at home is representative of his or her behavior at school: It isn't!
Secondly, the tween/teen years are a time of individuation and identity formation. It is your child's job to separate from you. She must do this in order to safely gain the confidence to grow up, make mature and responsible decisions, and eventually leave home. The painful part of this is that she probably no longer wants to sit on the couch and watch "Modern Family" with you. She would rather be in her room texting her friends and may generally make you feel that you are the least cool person around. Be assured, this is all normal.
Of course, there are times when some firm limit setting is necessary (for instance, blatant breaking of family rules or physical aggression). And there are times when you should be concerned and seek professional help such as if your child suddenly becomes very disengaged from his or her friends, loses interest in activities that he/she used to enjoy, or is engaging in self-harming behaviors.
I would like to offer a few small bits of comfort as you buckle your seatbelt for this bumpy ride. First of all, if you can adjust your expectations, steel up your hurt feelings and remind yourself that much of this behavior is all normal (and necessary) teenaged development, it will make it a lot easier to swallow.
One suggestion is to find something that your kid might find hard to pass up such as a weekly trip to the frozen yogurt shop just with you. No siblings, no smartphones or other distractions and just create a space for them to talk. If they want. Don't expect too much and you certainly don't need to grill them for information, but if you open yourself up and let them guide the conversation... they just might give you a tiny nugget of connection to keep you going until the next week!
In a recent conversation with another psychologist he was describing the transition of relationships with children as they become adults. He explained that the teenaged years are NOT an accurate representation of how your relationship with your kid will be forever. Think about an earlier time when you enjoyed a really positive relationship with your child such as ages 6 to 9 that seem to be a sweet spot when your kids want to spend time with you. Now fast-forward to when he's an adult, your adult relationship with your kid will be a grown-up version of that earlier time. Until then: Hang in there!
If you have questions or concerns about your child, please don't hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org 781-320-7073; Mark Spence at MSpence0f@nobles.edu 781-320-7158; or Mary Batty at MBatty0f@nobles.edu 781-320-7072. As always we'll be glad to advise or help out in any way we can.