Worries about 14 Year Old - Rude, Emotional

Dr. Laura,
I have a cerebral 14 yo who is just now starting to show her independence, and separate herself from "us" to more of her peers, or just "solo": arguing, ignoring requests, laziness, reading for hours, yet is still a very high achiever in most all of her endeavors. I invite this change in part knowing this is important for her to gain judgment and to claim responsibility for her own mistakes. But how do the helicopter moms cope w this separation/rudeness. I know that I/We have done our best to prepare her and have set up "boundaries to come" but I can remember my own mom being so worried about me (then about 15) staying up nights, etc. And today is so different then 35 yrs ago. I was a much more stoic teen. She puts up such a fight for such trivial things and emotions in her run so high. I worry about her ability to cope w stress of tomorrow, today and I cringe at the thought of high school next Fall! -- Kerry

Dear Kerry,
Thanks for writing. You're right that 14 year old's do need to grow into their own person, and it's great that you're supportive of your daughter doing so. At the same time, you're modeling relationships for her, and you don't want to give her the idea that it's ok to be rude. Here are a few thoughts that might help.

1. I have noticed (and I have a 15 year old daughter) that they get more reasonable as they get older, as long as we manage our own emotions. In other words, every early adolescent gets emotional and loses it. If we respond by losing it ourselves, they do more of it. If we can respond instead by taking a deep breath and reminding ourselves to see things from their point of view, they can more easily manage their own emotions. 

2. Young adolescents often do get very emotional as they argue their points, because their identity is on the line. What a great opportunity for them to learn that they can have their own views that are different from ours, that we will listen and learn and love them no less. Of course, it's important in those discussions that we be able to keep our own emotions calm so that we keep the discussion safe.

3. Does that mean we should ignore rudeness? Often, in the heat of the moment. Meaning that if things are very overheated, I would probably ignore the rudeness until things were calm. At the moment I would focus on whatever my child was trying to tell me, that they were so upset about. But I would definitely bring it up later, because I would not want my child thinking rudeness was ok. And if things are not so overheated, I would bring it up right then: "Ouch! You must be so upset to be rude to me. I don't talk to you that way. What's going on?" Here's a blog entry on this: What To Do When Your Kid Talks Back.

4. My daughter also would rather read for hours than do anything else. I have learned that she is in her own world then, and experiences it as a welcome relief from the social and other pressures that otherwise are so overpowering in their lives at this age. She really does not hear me if I try to speak to her when she is reading. So I have taken to sitting down next to her on the couch and saying her name. Once she looks up at me, I begin talking. I find that otherwise she will agree to a request I make but won't really take it in. Once we are in physical contact, I can make an agreement about when she will do what I am requesting. Sort of like getting a toddler to take his bath, except I don't have to fly her book up the stairs!

5. High School- I realize that it is a big transition, but your daughter is growing up fast and she will be able to handle it just as all kids do. If you are worried about her starting high school it would be great for you to talk with another parent (including your daughter's other parent) so that you can clarify for yourself exactly what you are worried about. Was your own high school experience not a good one? Do your concerns accurately reflect your daughter? If there are specific things that concern you (will she be able to handle the subway? the work? the social scene?) maybe you can explore with other parents how their kids have navigated these things, and you'll feel some reassurance. In any case, you'll want to manage your own anxieties sufficiently so that you don't visit them on your daughter, and you can listen to her concerns without becoming anxious yourself.

Kerry, I hope this is helpful. You might want to take a little time with the early teen section of my website as well; I address the issue of teens beginning to prefer their peers' company, staying connected, etc.

I don't know your daughter, but I do know that even within a year, teens mature so rapidly. We think they're not ready, and we look back a year later amazed at their maturity. As the mother of a nineteen year old as well as a fifteen year old, I can tell you that the teen years can be absolutely wonderful, and they pass far too quickly. Enjoy your daughter in these last years while she is still home with you and open to your influence.
Dr. Laura

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Folks, she's brilliant. It's wonderful to have parenting experts who don't see the child as the enemy in a locked combat, for one thing. I recommend it.