Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems. If you’re the parent of a toddler and someone says this to you, you probably grimace or roll your eyes. But when that toddler becomes a teen, you suddenly start to understand what everyone meant.
When the sweet child who once clung to your legs suddenly wants nothing to do with you, chances are good that you’ve become the parent of a teenager. It’s not an easy job to have, and most parents find they spend a fair amount of time wondering, “Is my kid normal?”
Many behaviors are, indeed, normal — but that doesn’t mean you have to accept them. Establishing and enforcing guidelines for acceptable behavior is a good idea. And enforcement is key: If you tell your teen that certain infractions will earn specific responses, you must be prepared to follow through.
Even though you should expect a certain amount of excitement with a teen at home, some behaviors might give you pause. Here’s a look at what’s normal — and what’s not.
Sure signs that a teenager is inhabiting your space are frequently slammed doors, “I hate you’s,” and tantrums that actually make you long for the terrible twos. The flip side? Occasional outpourings of excitement and love, particularly when money or car keys are given. All of these outbursts are normal.
Remember how your toddler tested limits by trying out new behaviors and watching your reaction? The only thing that’s changed is the size of the child in question.
When should you worry? If your teen frequently sinks into depressions that affect her appetite, if she acts manic and cannot control herself even when consequences are imposed, or if her mood swings are causing significant stress for others in the household.
Your teen comes home with an earring… or a nose ring. The little boy whose curls you once brushed shaves his head, grows a goatee or shows up three hours late. This kind of experimentation and rebellion is normal, even if you find it repulsive. You can forbid it, as long as you’re prepared to implement your promised punishment after a breach.
When to worry: If your teen withdraws from longtime friends in favor of a more dangerous crowd, take note. If you notice excessive sleepiness, constant snacking or hyperactivity, your teen may be experimenting with drugs.
If you’ve never been on the receiving end of a teenager’s tirade, consider yourself lucky. The emotions are one thing, but the attitude and the sense of entitlement that suddenly plague most teens are downright jarring. They’re also fairly normal. Teens truly believe they deserve cell phones, laptops, TV time, cars and clothes from their favorite stores. And if you get in their way, they won’t hesitate to make their displeasure known.
You should worry if the behavior is constant or if it interferes with your teen’s relationships with others. In other words, if you can’t remember the last time you had a conversation with your teen that didn’t leave you feeling wounded, or if a sibling is beginning to actively fear your teen, you may have a problem on your hands.
Where to go for help
If your teen’s behavior has crossed over the line, contact your child’s pediatrician, family doctor or school guidance counselor. Describe your concerns, and see what recommendations are offered. You also can ask for a referral to a behavioral therapist who may have some ideas and insights.
The teenage years will pass. And around the time your child turns 20, you’ll discover a new, more positive relationship. In the meantime, stay grounded, and work on creating a safe place to which your teen can return.
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