An adolescent brain is developing at about the same rate a 2 year old brain develops. Additionally, due to school hours, activities and homework most teens don’t get enough sleep so adolescence is like the terrible two’s the second time around, but this time in a sleep deprived state. Try to look at your teen’s outbursts, insults, etc. like toddler tantrums. They are caused by spikes in anger when any slight is even perceived. During these spikes he or she is literally not thinking straight. You may notice that 30 minutes later (or less) he or she will likely be fine…as if nothing happened. This occurs because the teen has cooled down and returned to an emotional baseline. Just as with toddler tantrums these outburst are not about you and shouldn’t be taken personally. Of course, not taking it personally is easier said than done. So the real question is how not to take it personally? Here some tips:
Practice, practice, practice. Remind yourself everyday that this is a developmental phase not a personal assault on you…no matter how good he or she gets a pushing your buttons.
Vent. Just because it’s not personal does not mean it’s not uncomfortable. Talk to your partner, talk to a family member, talk to a friend or talk to a therapist to help put things in perspective.
Use what he or she gives you. The pain that you are feeling can inform you about what is going on within your teen’s mind. That rage, hopelessness, frustration, fear, etc. will give you a picture of the turmoil your teen is feeling. Hopefully, this will allow you to be more empathetic and less hurt or angry.
Don’t engage. When your teen starts to yell, say hurtful things, be disrespectful don’t reciprocate. You don’t want to say something you will regret.
Consequences. There should be consequence for negative (and positive) behavior. This helps to empower you as a parent and it helps your teen know what to expect. (see my tips on creating consequences for assistance in this area).
Seek help. If your teen’s outburst seem unusually frequent or intense. If his or her behavior has changed significantly in a short amount of time. If you’ve noticed changes in eating or sleeping habits, decreased interest in previously enjoyed activities, change in friends, increase isolation, etc. Trust your instincts and seek professional help.