Managing mean teens: Why is my teen so difficult to be around?

When our children hit puberty (generally when they are 10 to 12 years old), the emotional centres of their brains become super-powered. This also means that their ability to maintain perspective is not so great in comparison. They become emotionally labile - their emotions are all over the place - and they can become overwhelmed all too easily. Feelings become very intense for them and the impact on you is that it can feel like there is nothing you can do right.

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This is a stage where your child is driven by a need to extricate themselves from you and become their own person. The need for them to separate from you and find their own identity also means that pretty much anything you do is wrong and extra annoying. Anything you do that is not like the vision they have of themselves is not good and anything you do which is like how they want to be is also not good. This intensifies around age 13. They're looking to get their needs met outside the family but we’re often still dreaming of cosy chats inside coffee shops.

Teens need to push away safely. There can be times when they feel the need to give a big push to get their independence, which can feel like an attack. This is especially true when you’re holding boundaries (as you should be) but it can feel that the fact that you simply exist aggravates them. Being told constantly by your child that you're annoying and wrong can feel very personal. 


What can you do?

You know your kid the best - trust that you will know when something is up that you should be concerned about. It could well be that your teen is picking a fight as it's the most efficient way they know to get you engaged quickly when they need you. 

So what on earth can you do?

  • Try not to take it personally - remember that this isn’t going to last forever.
  • Try to give them a helpful reminder rather than nagging.
  • Try not to react.
  • Stop probing and asking leading questions - just be a soft and close presence because they need breathing space.
  • Remember this is down to developmental factors that none of you has control over. This isn't forever and it will ease.

If they have been outwardly rude to you, it’s OK to pull them up. It is your job as a parent to show them how to be caring, confident people out in the world. Don’t let them act at home in a way that would be unacceptable in the outside world - you’re doing them no favours if you do. Home is a training ground for developing ways to let them be successful in the outside world.

There is no need for them (or you!) to be outright rude or disrespectful. Don’t make it a row, but do tell them ‘No, it's not OK to say that' and ‘If you’re going to talk to me like that - you need to go away and cool off'. 

You can give them three options:

  1. You can be friendly (this is the best one yes please).
  2. You can be polite.
  3. You can tell me you need some space.

Work out why they are reacting like this; they may be tired, so their impulses are strong and their controls are weak. Have they picked up on something other kids say at school? Is it something they've seen on social media? Is it hormonal? 

Give time and space for their emotions to settle and let your emotions settle too! Let them know you need some space to cool off as well whilst also letting them know that you will be talking about this (so they know they’re not off the hook). It’s going to be hard not to react and you’re probably exhausted too - give yourself a breather. This also shows them how you manage and regulate your emotions when things become overwhelming and is a great learning tool for them.

Do you remember snow globes? When we are upset and feeling overwhelmed our minds are like a snow globe that's been shaken up. You need to let things settle - this is not the time to talk to them - give them a chance to reregulate and let their brain balance out.

You can explain this to your child using the snow globe as an analogy that they can relate to. These intense emotions feel weird to them too and while you don’t need to get into a biology lesson, it might be helpful to talk about what's happening with their emotions (when they’re calm).

  • How do you help them regulate their emotions? Give them time to let their emotions settle. You could suggest going for a walk together or sometimes just offering them a drink of water can be enough.
  • Show them how you regulate your emotions.

If there’s something to be solved, they will be better able to be rational and you have a much better chance of sorting this out together. 

Being a parent is hard and it doesn't get any easier as your child moves through adolescence. Speaking with a counsellor can help. We can work together on coping mechanisms that will make you feel more balanced and stronger to support your teen. If you have any questions or would like to find out more, please do get in touch with me.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 1DH
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Written by Jennifer Warwick, BACP Registered Counsellor (Postgrad Dip Counselling)
Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 1DH

I am a BACP registered counsellor working online. I work with people who struggle to balance work, home and family life. People who are constantly rushing, looking after others over themselves and are exhausted as a result. I specialise in relationships, family issues and parenting teens and tweens. Contact me for a free initial chat by phone.

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