Enjoy Parenting Your Teen
Frustrating, eye-opening, fast-paced, scary: How would you describe the middle school years? Would fun be on your list?
For some folks, parenting is fun. For others, parental joy flew out the window the minute their kids hit double-digits. Can you get the fun back? You can, say the experts, and we'll tell you how.
Class in Session
"Sixth grade was like night and day from fifth grade," says Karen Croft of Pittsburgh, Pa. "My son went from goofy and happy to withdrawn and depressed. I went right along for the ride."
Croft worried that her son was headed down a dark path, but she didn't know how to intervene. "Everything I tried backfired," she says. "Before too long, everything I said to him sounded angry. I hated the mother I had become."
Kate Cohen-Posey, a licensed mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist practicing in Florida, says first things first: Find a parenting support group that will provide you face-to-face contact with parents of preteens who will understand what you are going through.
"When my daughter was an infant, I wisely participated in a 'baby class' and learned many useful tips," says Cohen-Posey. "Parents probably need a 'teen class' much more than a 'baby class.'"
Community centers, family centers, churches and even hospitals in your area may offer workshops or classes about parenting preteens and teens. If no class is available, you might think about starting one.
"I enjoy the friendships and the information we exchange at our playgroup for my 3-year-old," says Croft. "It dawned on me how wonderful it would be to have something like that for Ben's age."
Croft mulled over her idea for a few months, all the while looking for anything similar that was available in her community. When she couldn't find anything, she went looking for other parents of preteens and teens who would be interested in a weekly Parents' Night Out. She placed an ad in her local parenting newspaper, posted flyers on her church and school community boards and ran a brief note in the school newsletter.
"We had eight parents the first week," says Croft. "Dads came, too!"
Cohen-Posey agrees that parent support groups and the give and take of information are important. "What works with other young people will not always work with yours, but it will help to get an idea of what normal behavior looks like," she says. "Most importantly, it will help you get a life."
The Bully Within
Parenting classes and support groups will give you plenty of fodder for thought and the immediate relief of getting out of the house and into a preteen-free zone. Still, you can't be gone every night, and you are bound to be home during at least one bought of preteen furor. How do you cope, then?
"Preteens and teens are the biggest bullies in the world," says Cohen-Posey. "Adults need to learn how to have fun with 'parent abuse.'"
Cohen-Posey recently gave this advice to a client who is having difficulty with her out-of-control 11-year-old. The recommendation: Everyone in the house gets a piece of candy when someone completes a chore, gets called a name or does something for someone else that the other person is supposed to do.
"Now when this 11-year-old tells [my client] she is stupid, [my client] just says, 'Oh, thanks, I've been wanting a [piece of candy],'" says Cohen-Posey.
Croft's household is less of a battleground these days, but she admits that preteen "verbal abuse" still occurs far to often. "I think I'm better equipped to deal with it now," she says. "I ignore as much of it as I can, but when it really gets bad, I head for the bathtub or I go shopping or I read a book. I'm realizing that I'm the only one who has the power to make myself feel angry. I'm not a victim, so now I choose to be in control of my feelings and behaviors. I hope my son learns from my example."
Croft has discovered the critical key to Cohen-Posey's theory on putting the fun back into parenting: Teens make their parents feel powerless, but there are a zillion and one ways to get your power back.