There was a little girl,
who had a little curl,
right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
she was very, very good,
but when she was bad,
she was horrid.
This little ditty was written by a mum of a tweenager, I am sure of it! And for the record, it does not pertain just to girls. It is a teenage cliche we are all well aware of: teen attitude or ‘tood. It can hit at any time of the day and needs nothing to bring it on. Our cherub suddenly drops a sarcastic comment, has the audacity to say “but why”, or the ultimate eye-roll. Sure, we knew this was going to happen but when it actually does it can leave you wondering ‘WTF? I am going to kill ‘em!’. (For the record, no we do not really wish harm our tweens, but caught off guard we can be forgiven for thinking it.)
The thing about teen attitude is that they seem to dish it when we are least able to deal with it.
It will nearly always be when you are running late, when you have a billion other things going on, when you are utterly exhausted or in public where embarrassment levels are optimal. Is this a coincidence? Absolutely not. The reason: is that our state of mind contributes 50% (if not more) to the situation.
When we are calm, we respond. When stressed we react. They know this.
Teen attitude is a stage when they are becoming aware that they can have their own thoughts, feelings and opinions on things (usually everything) and hence begin to experiment with expressing those thoughts, feelings and opinions.
If they oppose your views or rules then all the better! But it takes practice to be able to express yourself effectively and guess who is the practice ground? Yep! YOU.
Survival for all during this time is dependant on you, the adult, to be in the right state of mind to see teen attitude for what it is. It is a time when we can influence how they will interact with others in the future: what is acceptable, how much attitude is too much, the difference between a debate and a fight, effective negotiation skills, and to learn to read other people. These are pretty complex things and are learned behaviours. We need to teach them. That’s our job.
That is not to say that we allow ‘tood’ to be seen as acceptable behaviour. But keep in mind that a gentle nudge, raised eyebrow, or “hey, that is not the way to talk” is maybe all your tween needs to know that they have pushed things too far. By losing tempers, yelling and shutting a conversation down (even one punctuated with eye rolls) only role-models a more grown up unacceptable mode of communicating. 99% of the time it will end in a full blown fight, door slams and tears. It does not mean you remain passive or let your tween get away with being an arse, but an un-emotive response will get you through this stage quicker. Be a role model to the way adults communicate. After all, that is what they are trying to learn.
The other benefit to giving yourself head space is that it will save your own stress levels. I don’t know about you but I have enough shit going on in my life to allow unnecessary fighting with one or all of my teens because they were a smart-arse in their reply to my enquiry as to their day. For all I know, the sarcastic response could actually be due to them having a really crappy day and their ability to keep their shit together fell apart as they came in the front door. By taking a deep breath and enough time to ask ourselves ‘what is behind this attitude?’ is enough time to allow yourself to respond.
If it seems to be going longer than you think you can withstand, then maybe reflect on how you are reacting/responding to the attitude and see if your methods need to change. Often, when there is an ongoing attitude, there is something behind it. If you are doing all the right things and the attitude is still happening, then it might be time to dig deeper. The most important thing to remember during this ‘tood stage is that it is just a stage and you actually play an active role in how long it will last. If you deal with it in a positive way, and not feed the fires of destruction, then the stage will pass quickly enough. You will be free to move into one of the other awesome (??) teenage stages! Woo Hoo!
Article from Jo Bainbridge, mother of three teens and founder of Talking Teens. Writer, podcaster, parent coach, and realist; problem solver, lateral thinker and ever so slightly inappropriate. Sharing the daily ups, the downs and the drama in between, Jo will no doubt know exactly what you mean when you find yourself asking “What The…?”