Weathering the storm

How parents, kids can best ride out the hormonal tsunami of the teen years

Posted: April 12, 2017 at 1:49 a.m.

If you enter two rooms of Candice Blansett-Cummins' otherwise immaculate home in Chicago, you might need a mask to disguise the smell, along with some anti-bacterial soap.

That's because Blansett-Cummins is the mother of a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old, and she has learned to choose her battles.

"It didn't make any sense to argue with them and make them clean it just to make it fall back apart again," Blansett-Cummins says. "Behind their doors, that's their space, and we're not going to govern what's in there, aside from the fact that there has to be a path for safety, and you shouldn't have rotting food."

Parents of teens are united in their mission to get through this time with their sanity intact, but it's a feat often failed.

"Teens are going through a very stressful time in their lives. They want to please us, but they also want to break away," says Michele Borba, educational psychologist, parent expert and author of UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. "Expectations are huge, the social scene is huge, peer pressure is enormous, college applications are due, peers matter more than we do, and psychologically and physiologically, there are a lot of changes."

Add that all up, and you get a melting pot of teenage emotions -- and the target of those emotions is quite often the parent. For most parents, these teenage years are the most difficult and frustrating times, but there are ways to ease the tension.

It's a very quick and emotional transition from being a child to becoming a 'tween and then a teen, and parents aren't used to giving up the control they had over their children, which is commonly the source of the majority of the arguments, says Dan Griffin, a clinical psychologist specializing in adolescents and family therapy.

"Parents have a hard time making the transition from the preteen years, where it has been more helpful to be hands-on, toward increasing autonomy and stepping back," Griffin says.

If parents aren't anticipating their children's need for autonomy, they might perceive it as disrespect or lack of control, and this sets up a bad dynamic between the teen and the parent, he says.

"They get more controlling, and there's a dance of the clamping down and the resistance," he says.

Instead, parents can offer 'tweens, or even 8- and 9-year-olds, increasing opportunities to have control and to shift the hierarchy, which will help their relationship.

Let them choose the menu for dinner, the restaurant or the sports they'll be playing, Griffin says. You're still the parent, and you get to make the major decisions in their lives, but they're growing up, and they need to feel they're in control as well.

"If kids begin to feel a sense of respect coming at them, you'll often see a shift, and the kid will seem to become a bit more mature and engaged instead of just being a resistant gorilla," Griffin says.

Giving up the control is a tough one for many parents, but there are other struggles besides control. It's a tough, passionate time for hormonal adolescents, and when they arrive home from school, they need to unwind.

Instead of giving them the privacy and space that they need, some parents feel insulted and rejected by

their teens -- which could cause tension in the home, says Lisa Damour, psychologist and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood.

"Rather than understanding that teenagers are often prickly at home because they are worn out by being pleasant all day at school, parents feel that the teenager no longer likes them," Damour says. "Rather than accepting that it is developmentally important for teenagers to question authority, they feel that their teenagers are being disrespectful."

That isn't to say that parents should ignore or celebrate the ways that teens become less pleasant. Teens should still be polite. But you can bypass much of the friction if you see the teenage years as something that your child is passing through rather than something your child is doing to you.

During this tumultuous time in their lives, teens really need their parents to be a nonjudgmental support system, says Lucie Hemmen, clinical psychologist and author of Parenting a Teen Girl: A Crash Course on Conflict, Communication and Connection With Your Teenage Daughter and The Teen Girl's Survival Guide: 10 Tips for Making Friends, Avoiding Drama and Coping With Social Stress.

You may feel that you have plenty of advice, but you should talk less, lecture less and listen more, Hemmen says.

Instead of yelling when your teen sleeps all day, resist criticizing him and say, "'I noticed you've been sleeping a lot, sweetie,'" Hemmen suggested. "'What's going on? I want to help.'"

Even for scary behavior, keep calm and be curious, she says.

For example, if you notice cuts on his arms, explain calmly that you saw the cuts and you're not angry, but you love him and want to help. "'Can you please talk to me about what's going on?'" Hemmen says.

There also are good times of the day and bad times to have those talks, whether you want to talk to your teen about a serious issue or whether you simply want to ask him about his day, Borba says.

You may be excited to chat as soon as he walks in after school, but this is usually the worst time, she says. And here's the tricky part: Each teen is different, and you're going to have to read his or her signs.

"But don't do the Barbara Walters approach -- do more of the Kelly Ripa: the relaxed approach," Borba says. "The steady eye contact really bothers them, and don't be so inquisitive."

Alecs Variny, a widow who is raising her 14-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter, tries to create a nightly safe space: the dinner table.

"We sit down, and as we eat, I ask them about how school went, how was their such-or-such activity," Variny says. "It is my favorite time of the day, and I really miss it if we don't get to do it."

Electronics are banned from the table, and moodiness is called out -- even if it's Variny who is the moody one.

But moods happen, and home is the place where teens are allowed to have their moods, Blansett-Cummins says.

"It doesn't matter how good of a job you do as a parent or how the stars are aligned, there's nothing you can do because hormones are hormones," she says. "We have to give them the space to have their moods."

Family on 04/12/2017