Recently, I wrote an article titled, “5 Tips For Safely Surviving the Preteen Years”. I hope it provided some food for thought on how to approach this turbulent season of parenting. But what about those of you who are already in the thick of the battle? Why does your child suddenly seem like a stranger, and a combative one at that? What happened? And most importantly, is there anything we can do to calm the storm?
These are big questions and before I attempt to answer them I want to give the caveat that I am no child psychologist. I can only approach this from the perspective of having been the problem child, as well as over 20 years of personal research into personality types, love languages, learning styles, and simple observation of the families in my sphere. With that said, I see three main root causes for the conflict between parents and preteens/teenagers.
Physical Causes: The Dreaded Hormonal Shift
While not quite as violent as a caterpillar spinning a pod and becoming a butterfly slushie, the changes a body goes through to morph from child to adult is no less dramatic and miraculous. Hormonal changes are the most notorious source of preteen family conflict, and while this is an incredibly large piece of the puzzle, it is short-sighted to blame all behavior on one factor. Adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and healthy friendships are all important factors to consider, and can make the hormonal transition of adolescence either smoother, or much harder than it needs to be.
Questions to consider
Is my child getting enough sleep?
What is my child eating on a regular basis?
Who is my child hanging out with? Is the friendship obviously uplifting and encouraging to my child?
Having been diagnosed with polycystic ovaries at a young age, I can say with certainty that for some of us, the hormonal tempest is severe and unpredictable. If you suspect a physical problem is contributing to your child’s behavior, please, please, please, seek medical advice. It’s no fun for you to deal with, but trust me, it’s less so for the child.
The Need For Control: Make Allowances
Alright, my hover-mom friends, I will try to not step too hard on your toes. Healthy parenting gives our children increased freedom and responsibility as they grow. When our kids reach the preteen years, they are naturally wired to desire more independence. They want to test out their ideas, their knowledge, their individuality. If you micro-manage every aspect of their lives, they will feel powerless at a time when they need to spread their wings a bit. Make some allowances for this need and you might be surprised at the results.
-Allow them age appropriate freedoms while demanding a corresponding respect and responsibility.
-Allow them to try new things even if you are sure that your way is better. You may be right, and they will learn, or you may be wrong, and you will learn. Either way, it’s a winning situation.
-Allow them to help in the running of the house, even if their efforts are not perfect. Chores should be given, not just for the sake of learning a work ethic, but also because we humans need to be needed. We are designed to be a functioning member of our social unit, and if that is denied us at home, we’ll seek it in another social unit. Bringing them into the running of the house is also preparing them to be capable adults, able to function well on their own someday.
-And the hardest for us mamas, allow them to fail. You cannot protect them from the pains and struggles of life, and if you try too hard to buffer them, you will simply rob them of opportunities to grow and become stronger. This includes moral failures. They will sin. Let us model forgiveness and use those failings as opportunities to help them grow in their walk with our Lord. Punishment may be necessary, but it should not be the focus in dealing with sin issues. Failure should never define us!
Questions to consider
Does my child have the freedom to rearrange her room? Does he choose his own clothes? Are they given the freedom to appropriately express their individual tastes?
Does my child have jobs to do at home? Is there a place they can work outside of home?
Does my child know they are a needed and valuable member of our team?
Does my child know that their failures do not define them or change how I feel about them?
Feeling Misunderstood: De-Freaking Your Monster
Remember how it felt to be an adolescent? I know, I know…many of us would rather gnaw off one of our limbs than take a walk down that particular portion of memory lane. I felt like a freak. I didn’t understand it, I just sensed that most other people saw the world differently than I did. No one ‘got’ me, and it seemed, no one really cared to. (*see footnote) I acted out and became an absolute monster.
I know many of you can relate. It’s painful to feel misunderstood, isn’t it?
It wasn’t until, in my early 20’s, I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that everything fell into place. I am classified as an INTJ. Female INTJ’s comprise about 0.8% of the general population. No wonder I felt like a misfit! Anything that is not the perceived ‘norm’, personality type, learning style, talents, or passions, can cause us to feel out of step or freakish.
Interestingly, once I understood this, my whole outlook changed. Now I had resources for understanding not only myself better, but understanding others and being tolerant of their distinct differences. I could probably write several posts on various facets of this aspect alone, but let me just give you some resources to look into.
The more you know about yourself and your loved ones, the easier it is to communicate effectively. We are designed with a deep desire to be known. Our children are no different in this respect and effective communication is the key to making your child feel understood.
Questions to consider
Do I have a basic understanding of different personality types?
What is my child’s love language? What is mine?
What is my child’s learning style? How does it differ from mine?
I realize that there are an almost infinite number of variables and situations that produce family conflict. However, the conflict itself is not the problem. Bad behavior is merely a symptom of a deeper problem. Identify the root cause or causes, and you will be on the road to finding the remedy. In fact, taking a hard look at each of these three areas before there is conflict, just may lead you to find areas that need improvement now, smoothing the way through the preteen years later.
Lord, give us eyes to see, really see, who our children are. Let us be a reflection of You in how we relate to them. May they feel loved completely, needed and valued, and known intimately. Give us wisdom on this tightrope walk that is parenting, and let our families function in a way that is glorifying to You. Amen.
(*Footnote: I never want to give the impression that my upbringing was lacking in any way. My parents were, and are, wonderful, loving people. My odd personality type, plus physical issues, led to much conflict in my family. At that time, information was not readily available as it is today. I assign no blame for my rocky adolescence.)