By Joe Connolly, Consulting Educator
I am having problems with my 13-year-old. She is very disrespectful and has a problem controlling her anger. What can I do to help her?
In all the years I have been helping parents of teens this type of question is the one I get most often. The reality is that being a 13-year-old girl can be a difficult time of life, and being the parent of a 13-year-old can be just as hard. The behavior you are describing is probably within the norm, although there is no way of knowing for sure without meeting your daughter.
You do not give details about her issue with controlling anger. Is the anger directed at you, or is it directed at another specific person or group of people? Or is she just angry all the time? The anger could be one sign of adolescence. However, if it really concerns you, I would recommend consulting with her teachers and school counselor. You may also wish to seek the guidance of an independent, private counselor.
Understanding what your daughter is going through developmentally, including her physical and emotional changes, will help you a great deal in figuring out how to parent this "new person." Going through adolescence is challenging. It's the time of life when an adolescent's main goal is to prove to her parents that she does not need them. This can create all sorts of tension in your relationship, which often leads to disrespectful behavior, sometimes by both parties.
If you think back to your relationship with your daughter during her childhood years (prior to 10 years of age), you probably realize how much she relied on you for everything. Children under the age of 10 are, for the most part, completely dependent upon their parents and other adults. Without us they cannot survive. We get used to parenting children in this manner and assume it will remain this way forever. We are able to control virtually every aspect of their lives when they are children. Because of this, many parents continue to parent the same way when their children become teens. The problem with parenting a 13-year-old in the same way you would parent a 7-year-old is that the two girls are completely different.
Beginning at about age 10, children begin the journey towards adulthood. By the time they are 18, they must go through a process that allows them to be an independent person. On a subconscious level our children know this and so much of what they do is an attempt to prove to themselves, and to us, that they are independent. If we fail to recognize this it can cause much strife in the relationship.
One thing to consider is how differently your daughter sees you now as opposed to when she was younger. Young children (under the age of 10) view their parents as super- humans. We can do no wrong in their eyes. The reality is that we make mistakes all the time, but they are not old enough to realize our mistakes, and even when they do discover the mistakes they are quick to forgive us. It is a way of life that most adults enjoy and get used to. When it goes away the reality can be hard on both the child and the adult.
Once children begin adolescence they become much more aware of their surroundings. One of the things they start to notice is that adults are actually human beings who make mistakes. Think about how traumatic this must be for them. For their entire life they thought their parents were super human beings, the two people in this world they could count on. And now that they are older they realize their parents are not those people at all, but instead people who are prone to errors.
Children handle this realization in a variety of ways, but most will not react kindly to this new knowledge. They tend to point out all the mistakes we make and sometimes make fun of us. "You're not really going to wear that, are you?" is an example of the type of thing they might say to us. Or, "Mom, stop embarrassing me."
This is usually the time when parents start feeling like their child turned into some kind of incredibly disrespectful and unrecognizable person. And how we react to that goes a long way towards determining how the relationship will grow or falter throughout the teen years.
It is important for all parents to understand the various stages of adolescence that our children go through if they wish to react more appropriately and communicate more effectively. Become educated by reading books, speaking to experts and visiting informative Web sites, like this one.
There are many good books on this subject. One of my favorites is written by Anthony Wolf, Ph.D. The title is, Get Out Of My Life, But First Could You Take Me And Cheryl To The Mall. Another good book is Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers, by Mike Riera, Ph.D.
Education is the key to understanding our teens. The more we know about the way they are supposed to act, the easier it becomes for us to parent them effectively.
Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.
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