Saturday, October 3, 2015

Temporary Insanity - the Teen Years

Teens are nuts occasionally, at least according to parental reports.    Is there a cure?

Over coffee at work, my friend tells me about her young daughter.  She'd had a meltdown when told to add a clothing item to what she was wearing.  The rule was about tights (jeggings?) being worn with a skirt; it's Mom's standard for propriety.  When the youngster was reminded of the requirement, she exploded in profuse tears, began throwing clothing out of her closet and around her room, wailing, "I don't have anything to wear!" She's ten years old.

Two things worth our notice.
First.  The transition to adulthood is underway in the pre-teen years -- and it opens up an unknown realm for the emerging person.  Never having done it before, you now want to categorize and orchestrate the parts of life yourself. Difficulties emerge with the discovery that everything is of absolute maximum importance!  E.g., "I can't find my socks! My life is over!"

It takes a few years for a youngster to sort out what's important and what's not, what deserves a fifteen second discussion and what deserves a few days of deliberation.  Youthful inexperience can lead to tantrum events where unimportant details get undeserved attention.  (Data tags still needed: priority, precedence, significance, relevance, context, granularity, and so on.)

Second.  Okay, the second thing is that kids begin learning the process of discussion and negotiation long before their own verbal skills are fully developed.*  They hear adult conversation and acquire huge chunks of information about how to make a point or get a result.  It's just pieces of life skill they notice and file away without any deliberation or evaluation.


Cause: kids in transition are learning to be adults, managing the details of life, but everything is super-important until they learn otherwise.

Cure: demonstrate and teach the skills of negotiation and good manners.  Do it deliberately, beginning in the very early years, and compliment them when they get it right.  Please and thank you, "Mother, may I?", "Would it be ok if...?"; all of that is the 'how' of dealing with things.  When a mega-boom happens, de-escalate.  Talk it through calmly in practical terms of importance and problem solving.

Safety Note:  avoid escalation, anger, and the power play.  They separate the participants and make matters worse by lessening your access to your child's learning process.  On the other side, getting it right can be an extraordinarily positive experience for parent and child and bring them closer.  A quick review of how mom and dad handle life details might be helpful.

The young mom telling me about her ten-year-old (above) was laughing at how bizarrely difficult it is to be a parent. Mom is a professional, accustomed to problem solving and decision making, but she notes that kids don't come with an instruction manual.  Fortunately, Grandma was around that morning to lend a hand.  A few minutes after she left for work, Mom got a text from Grandma, "She had five pieces of toast.  Everything is fine now.  P.S. You need bread."

There's lots of fun along the way.  The ten-year old girl mentioned has an older brother who spends hours on the phone with his friends discussing relationships with girls, what to do, what it means when she says this or that, and how to impress, giving each other advice.  He's twelve. Giving each other advice!  But that's another story.

*An eighteen-month old toddler was playing on the floor while her mom and dad and friends chatted about travel pictures scrolling by on the wall screen, places they'd been and things they'd seen.  When Mom used the term "travel pictures", the toddler began walking around and waving her hands with a big smile saying excitedly, "I traveling, I traveling!"  Small children enjoy listening to adult conversation, and they grasp much more than you might expect.

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