In the last blog, I called attention to a trend I’m hearing about frequently right now: middle school kids (or even younger) smart-talking their parents. Smart-talking (also known as being sassy) is often accompanied by eye-rolling, hair tossing and other general impudence.
When solving a challenge, it’s always good to begin by asking, why is this an issue … even if it seems obvious since the answers, when we give them thought, can sometimes surprise us. The first answer which comes to mind about eye-rolling, etc is that it is annoying and disrespectful. Beyond that, however, I’d propose that if your kid continues such displays, the behavior will ultimately damage them…cost them friendships, help/encouragement, jobs, guidance from valued sources like teachers, college advisors, bosses, so on. So, although you certainly have the perogative to stop such displays just for your own sake, FOR YOUR KID’S SAKE and future, it’s a good idea to help them learn to curb this junk. Let’s think of it as a graduated process.
LEVEL 1 – If teen petulence only happens occasionally and if it gets followed by something like, “I’m sorry Mom,” you may want to let it pass. After all, middle school and beyond can dish out some pretty wicked days and a person does need some place safe to blow off steam. I believe that home IS such a place. However, if such blow ups become daily or become disruptive to others’ serenity, the cause may need to be investigated. Also, alternative ways of blowing off steam might want to be considered. After a series of days when a middle school girl came stompng into the house after school, slamming her books, kicking the cat, grumbling at her brother, her mom sensed that she was sliding into a habit. So on a day when mom saw it winding up again, mom said to her daughter, “Seems like you had a rough day. How about you go up to your room, give yourself a little down time. I’ll bring your favorite snack and you can just take a deep breath. You’re home now and we’re all FOR you here. I’ll be up in a minute.”
The truth is that in middle school, kids can get swamped by emotions, social interactions, demands which are confusing and frustrating…if not embarrassing! They may have been the butt of every joke, the subject of gossiping, the bottom of the heap all day long. They don’t have the tools in their tool kit YET to cope. Far from being a situation which calls for discipline, such a melt down may let us know that they need more tools for regaining their emotional and social balance. If we said to a group of adults, “What do you do when you’ve had a hard day?,” no doubt we’d get dozens of answers: run for five miles, cry, write in my journal, cook, take a nap, pet my cat, etc. Since we know that these are not the only difficult days our kid will experience in life, how about seeing this as a great opportunity to learn new skills. This might even make a good dinner conversation, including the whole family. For example, what does dad do after a bad day?
So, a Level 1 way to deal with a tempermental teen is to be understanding, supportive AND help guide them toward learning new ways to express/blow off. It’s often helpful to point out (though not when it’s happening, but later) that when our behavior is “unbecoming,” we are not likely to get what we need. Learning to rebound after a hard day is a skill which takes some time and practice. Do your best not to take it personally but also do what you can to move your teen toward learning a more positive way of coping. We’ll talk about other levels of “helping” in upcoming blogs.