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How to deal with teen egos

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

The adolescent mind

One of the great things about my kids getting older is seeing glimpses of the people they are becoming. Behind the snark, underneath the hormones, there's a pretty great kid in that 13 year old body. He's not quite a boy, not quite a man, and he's trying to find a balance between it all - but his ego is still very much in development. It's interesting to participate in this process; it's sometimes wonderful, and it's sometimes painful. Some days are better than others.

Teenage BoyAnother great thing about my kids getting older is their ability to help around the house more and more. On crazy days, I can ask Alfs to get part of dinner ready while I finish up some work, for example. But sometimes, even in an act as simple as helping with dinner, we can enter the minefield of the adolescent psyche. Who knew a pie crust could be so fraught with danger?

It seemed so simple

A few days ago, I planned to make a quiche for dinner. After he arrived home from school, I asked Alfs to please make the pie crust as I was finishing up some other things and we soon had to get him to baseball practice. We have a cookbook with a great, easy recipe, and we'd made it together many times before. He was a little snarky, as he typically is in the afternoon after school, but I calmly asked him again, and he went to do it only a little huffy. When he was done, he seemed in a better mood. There was a sense of accomplishment. I thanked him several times, noting what a help it was. The afternoon was at an even keel again, I thought.

End of story, right? Wrong.

After dropping him and his brother at baseball practice and picking up his sister, I went home to roll out the crust, make the filling and put the quiche in the oven. As I was rolling the crust, the texture of the dough was different than usual. Suspicious, I tasted the dough. It was sweet. Alfs had made the wrong pie crust recipe, a sweet one. And it wasn't going to work at all with a savory quiche filling. There was no time to make another crust, and I was due to pick up the boys in 15 minutes. Just like that, dinner was a bust.

The confluence of events

I had several issues here: what happened and why, should I address it and how, and what the heck was I going to make for dinner? I didn't want to dash that sense of accomplishment, didn't want to offer only criticism, I didn't want him to feel I didn't appreciate his help such that it might reduce any willingness to help in the future, and yet if there was a negative element I needed to figure that out. Helping him understand that sweet pie crust doesn't go with savory filling is a basic teaching moment; was it a simple non-understanding of this? And still there was the matter of dinner.

When I picked up the boys, I asked, lightly, "Hey, which recipe did you use for the crust?" I didn't say it was the "wrong" recipe, just asked which one.Alfs was instantly defensive. Yup, there was a negative element here that needed to be addressed. "The one you told me to use," he barked back. Except that I didn't tell him to use a specific recipe (though I did assume he'd use the one we'd always used, or ask if he was unsure - and that, perhaps, was my fault), I just asked him to make the crust. Then, quickly, he backtracked, "The book fell open, and I used the one on that page.""Okay," I said, and dropped it for a few minutes.As we drove to the store (which is not convenient) to pick up a premade pie crust to salvage the quiche filling sitting in the fridge, we were silent. I didn't tell the kids what I needed to get. After dashing in and out, Alfs asked what I had bought, I told him, simply and matter-of-factly, "Sweet pie crust doesn't go with a savory quiche filling,"

He got it

With one look, Alfs put it all together. We had a bit of a talk on the way home. He admitted that he'd been annoyed by my request to help, and as such didn't think at all about what he was doing, that the pie crust was made with as much with resentment as it was with flour, butter and water. He admitted that he'd had a bad attitude and that had played into the simple act of making pie crust - but also that the process of making it had recentered him a bit. I expressed again how I appreciated him making the crust, how he's so capable, but also added that we all had to help around the house and attitude is not acceptable. Among other tidbits of issues. It ended up being a good talk. Alfs learned a lesson about how his attitude can impede good choices - and I learned a lesson about being absolutely clear in my requests.

Sometimes this parenting of a teenager is like flying blind. Trying to parent fragile egos coupled with strong attitudes is a challenge, to say the least. We want to prop up the tender parts while keeping the less positive parts in check. I think the most important part of that whole situation on my end was not accusing and not using a "you should have" approach to the whole situation - but how I managed to figure that out in the moment, I have no idea. I sure hope I can remember it the next time this type of situation comes around, and it is bound to. Dinner was very late that evening, but that's okay in the end. Something bigger was achieved than just a meal. And the sweet pie crust? I saved it and two days later, there was a blueberry pie for dessert.

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