Sharon Coulter, MA, PPS, MA LMFT is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist.
August 12, 2020
Is it hard to remember the happy times with your “good” kid amidst the increasing distancing, disdain, disrespect, or downright volatility of your teenager? Take heart if this is your current experience because you’re most definitely not alone. What’s most important is how you interpret these changes and the ways in which you respond to your teen. Much of this behavior is age appropriate. The most important thing you can do is remember this is a phase. Don’t take it personally but keep them accountable.
Let me repeat that: don’t take it personally but keep your teenager accountable for their behavior.
The truth of the matter is that your teen is experiencing a chaotic time and some will navigate these difficult waters better than others. Think back on your own adolescence: would you want to go back to that, again! Hormones are raging, friends are changing (daily), school is becoming more complex—academically and socially—and the innate desire and need to individuate (be one’s own person) may well be pushing your teen to break away from his/her safety net – the family. A death, divorce, marriage, geographic move are only a few examples that may add another layer of complexity to your teen’s life. How to balance respecting your teen’s burgeoning desire for greater privacy and individuality and establishing parameters that maintain his/her safety and a respectful and cooperative atmosphere in your home is tricky to say the least. Indeed, it is an ongoing process. Equally important is the need to be watchful for signs of “acting in” manifested as isolation, depression, and anxiety.
The following are some guidelines for dealing with everyday teen challenges:
Connect with Your Teen
Despite the struggles between you and your teen, your ability to maintain a loving connection is critical if you are to have any kind of influence over him or her. Develop a ritual of checking in with your teen at the end of every day—it could be over dinner, in their room, driving home, or during an activity your teen likes. Let them know it was a difficult and confusing period of your life. Avoid asking your teen questions that require one word answers. Ask them HOW their day went: what was fun about it and what was stressful. Briefly let them know what was difficult about your day. Address changes in mood and behavior in your teen by remarking on the fact that they don’t seem themselves and you’re concerned. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like to chat about that may be bothering them. If your offer to talk is rebuffed, don’t take it personally. Just let your teen know that if they want to talk at a later time, you’re available, and you love them. Yes, continue to tell your prickly teenager that you love them and affirm as many positive behaviors as possible (even the littlest things). This is vitally important as teenage-hood is typically a time when teens feel that all their parents do is pick on them.
Rude Behaviour – Formulate a Response Plan
Develop a spoken mantra such as, “We’re respectful to one another in our family” and model it as frequently as you are able. Should your teen act out or try to suck you into a power struggle, refuse to accept the invitation. Just because your teen wants to argue a point, doesn’t mean that you need to comply, and getting into a shouting match with a yelling teen is a losing battle as it only fuels the emotional fire and demonstrates your loss of control. There is nothing wrong with letting your teen know you are angry at their behavior and need time to cool off before you can speak with them about what has transpired and decide what consequences will follow. The key here is to address the behavior. Your teen’s anger or rudeness does not mean he/she is bad, lazy, etc., and labeling your teen in this way is damaging to their self esteem. It’s the behavior that is unacceptable.
Formulate a plan that has appropriate consequences and that match poor behavior or broken rules. Keep in mind that consequences are NOT meant to make your teen feel powerless. Rather they are to 1) set limits; 2) motivate your teen to do something different; and 3) help him/her not to repeat the behavior. For example, you tell your teen she isn’t going out with her friends until she’s straightened up her room. She verbally abuses you by calling you a derogatory name. Name calling is verbal abuse and should not be tolerated. A consequence could be that she’s grounded in her room until she writes you a letter of apology for cursing at you and tells you how she will deal with the situation differently if it occurs in the future.
When What You’re Doing Isn’t Working
If your teen appears distressed or anxious over a prolonged period of time or your strategies aren’t working, visit your pediatrician to have your teen medically assessed and meet with your teen’s school counselor to discuss any school issues they can shed light on. Poor behavior is almost always paired with poor grades. You may also want to consider joining a parent group and consulting with a psychotherapist for yourself and for your teen.
Holding on to our sense of self in loving relationships is a tough act. The process of individuation is the key to our emotional maturity and renders us able to balance our desire to please another with our drive to do what feels right for ourselves. Family dynamics either hinder or support our individuation. Think about it: As a child, were you encouraged to think, feel, and act as an individual? (Do not confuse independence with individuality). Or did your family demand for the most part that you cooperate and that you please them in order to be accepted and loved?
If this balancing act were not difficult enough in our families of origin, it becomes more precarious as we move into adult relationships with partners and spouses. As our partner grows in importance to us, so does the struggle to cooperate with him/her and stay true to our sense of self discovery and innate need for expansion. It’s easy to understand this dilemma when we recognize that of all the needs we have, loving relationships are the most critical for our happiness and well being. We are social beings who desire and require connectedness with others to thrive.
The struggle to remain connected while holding on to our sense of self can cause great confusion for couples because they are unaware of what is transpiring. When one is repeatedly succumbing to the needs of the other for the stability of the relationship, the toll can be physiological and emotional. In truth, the “pleasing” partner is out of integrity with him or herself because cooperation is taking place at the expense of individuality. A therapeutic term for this kind of relating is fusion or emotional dependence – not to be confused with love. The more emotionally dependent we are on our partner, the more we are going to be threatened by their potential rejection.
What makes this dynamic even more complex is the fact that we tend to choose a partner who possesses a similar level of emotional maturity to our own. One partner may predominantly acquiesce; one may predominantly control; and both may frequently disengage, but all these behaviors reflect an emotional dependence that slowly erodes the relationship.
If this is sounding like you or your relationship, take a breath. With awareness and the willingness to take action, change is always possible. The following are some ideas to consider if you recognize your weak sense of individuation is hurting your relationship and requires work:
1. Learn ways to manage anxiety/hurt instead of running away from it or putting oneself/another down.
2. Become aware of tendencies to catastrophize and awfulize situations. Check out your motives for doing this.
3. Look at your boundaries. Are they healthy? Are you able to speak up for yourself in a respectful way and state a difference of opinion?
4. Get to know yourself better – your values, beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses — and see them as opportunities for expansion.
5. Find ways to increase your self esteem.
6. Practice communicating your needs with others – friends, family, and your partner.
7. Stop taking what your partner or another does personally – then you can better understand what’s going on.
8. Become aware of tendencies to withdraw in your relationships and explore what’s happening—what emotions are coming up for you when you do this.
9. Consider your childhood experiences and how some of those may be triggered today – especially with your partner.
Welcome the difficulties that arise in relationships – don’t panic. They are your indicator and opportunity for growth and personal transformation.Take responsibility for becoming a better YOU — you’ll be amazed how your partner and others around you change as a result.
January 5, 2020
Where we put our focus may lengthen our lifespan
Growing research suggests a “cup half full” philosophy may improve our physical and emotional health and even our life expectancy.
One of the largest such studies out of Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data from 70,000 women who answered questions about how they viewed their future. Data analysis showed that women who scored higher on the optimism scale were significantly less likely to die from several major causes of death over an eight-year period, compared with women who scored lower. Numerous other studies duplicate these findings—indicating that to promote our optimal health and wellbeing it pays to be optimistic. (link below)
5 Simple Ways to Embrace a more Positive Perspective
Tune in to gratitude
Where you put your focus grows. Put a jar in your kitchen or somewhere visible. Think about something you’re grateful for that happened that day or a good memory and write it on a slip of paper that goes in the jar. This can be your own jar or The Family jar. Watch it fill up.
Tune out the negative
When you find yourself habitually focusing on negative situations or possible negative future events, stop that train of thought, acknowledge your negative thinking with curiosity and choose to turn to something that you enjoy – go for a walk, call a friend, turn on favorite music that you know lifts your spirits. Note – this may take persistence and practice.
Tune in to self care
Self care is not about being selfish but about being responsible for our bodies and minds. That means eating healthy, getting exercise, ensuring we get regular sleep, reaching out for help when we need it. It also means having fun!
Tune in to self compassion
Practice becoming more aware of the critic within you that may try to beat you up with overly high expectations. Be your best champion and show yourself forgiveness when you make mistakes.
Tune in to your local community
If you have time, look to make a small positive change in your neighborhood and feel a greater sense of belonging. It could be helping a neighbor, volunteering, baking cookies for a charity drive. Esteemable acts build self esteem and to be positive we need to have healthy self esteem.
Tune in to mindfulness
Mindfulness is akin to awareness of the present moment. Nature is particularly powerful as a means of tuning in to everyday miracles. Watch the sun set or rise, smell the roses in your garden, sit by the ocean, star gaze. When we purposely focus on the present moment and feel it fully, we nurture our capacity to deal with stressful events.
Harvard Study: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/optimism-premature-death-women/