What Should I Do With My Defiant Middle-Schooler?
By Debra Collins, Family therapist
Middle-school kids are worse than the terrible twos! My son just got relatively decent and we could have a conversation and now he has turned into a defiant toddler who is too big to put onto a time-out mat! Does anybody else feel this way? Or am I a goofball? What's a parent to do?
I usually say, "Teenagers are 2-year-olds with car keys." Hopefully, you and your son will have more time adjusting to adolescence - before he gets his learner's permit! All humor aside, what you are describing is normal development, but that doesn't mean it is easy on either of you. Your son is experiencing his body changing without his control. In addition, adults are now placing greater expectations on him to respond more maturely and work more independently. However, he still has not had much life experience to cope with all of these changes.
Experts used to believe that an adolescent brain was pretty much like an adult's. We now know that brain development continues throughout young adulthood and some say through middle-age. This explains why he's civil one minute and having a tantrum the next. His impulse, reasoning and planning centers are still forming. So, continue setting realistic and firm limits.
Here are some other simple guidelines that might help:
Empathy works great with teens.
Many teens don't feel heard as much as they did when they were younger. This may be because they act like they don't want to talk to with us, but they are really longing to be heard and understood. Be the safe place to land; listen first and suppress the need to either lecture or fix it for them. Ask what solutions they have, so they can practice problem solving with you.
Enjoy those pleasant conversations with him.
In those moments you can mention to him how insightful and interesting he is. He may dismiss you, but he'll come back for more. This is a hard time for parents; you may be facing some life-cycle changes yourself - middle-age, aging parents - so seek out families going through similar issues for support.
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.