When a teen is not in the mood to show their best side, it can be truly astounding how unpleasant and emotionally unavailable they can be. This is a very common complaint among many parents of many teens.
In fact, it is very difficult to diagnose problems in teens because they can all show signs of being mood disordered. But if your teen can still be affectionate, communicative, good-natured and emotionally available at least some of the time, things will probably be fine.
Still, it is certainly a painful problem for most parents of teens and pre-teens that sometimes, they express not only little interest in family life, but worse, complete disregard. Here is a common scenario:
Alexa’s mother has planned a wonderful afternoon for them. They are together in the car on their way to the mall for a hot, sweet beverage, and then for some shopping followed by a little dinner. For mom, this is a great plan, full of indulgences. Alexa sits, slumped over in her seat, so obviously bummed out about the plan that you would think she had just been issued a death sentence.
Alexa’s mother admittedly becomes a little depressed. They had planned this special time together for days. She was really looking forward to it. Finally, she loses it. Her voice tembles with anger as she says the guilt-inducing words: “I thought this would be fun for us.” Her sadness and resentment is so thick in her voice that Alexa shifts uncomfortably in her seat. She looks out of the window, afraid to egg her mother on.
Still, Alexa’s mother continues, her voice getting louder “You have spent every single day with your friends this week, Alexa. You would think one afternoon with your mother would not kill you.” Finally, Alexa responds “Look, I’m here, OK? I wanted to go over to Janine’s house. Brenna is there and they’re going to listen to that new CD, I told you that. Why couldn’t we do this next week?”
For Alexa, being with her mother has become a total drag. And, this feeling is actually dragging her mother down by now. So the teen drags the parent down and the parent drags the teen down and now they are both sitting in the car feeling utterly miserable. This may be nature’s marvelous way of making sure that teens move out of the house and that they get their own lives as quickly as possible.
Despite this all too common scenario, most of the recent studies and literature about teenagers reveal that teens really need to spend quality time with their parents. In fact, it has been repeatedly proven that teens are secretly relieved and glad to have boundaries, curfews, nosy parents, expectations, family time and whatever else would constitute a close parental connection. According to many parents, it is quite a big secret.
Now this is a real freak of nature. How is it possible that so many parents don’t have the feeling that their teens want to stay particularly connected? In fact, most American parents have been taught, until just recently, that teens need to “separate” and “have their own lives” and just be left alone. Some parents have taken respecting teenagers’ needs for independence to such great lengths that they actually withdraw their emotional energies from their children almost completely.
And that is certainly how Alexa’s mother is feeling in the car right now. She now doesn’t particularly want to spend time with Alexa, because let’s face it, Alexa is not exactly what you would call a barrel of laughs. Why bother to extend herself at all if Alexa is going to consistently complain that she has better things to do?
Here now we have a very convoluted scenario. The parent is supposed to stay involved with a teen who does not give off any feeling whatsoever of wanting to be involved with. But we are American parents. We are used to things being convoluted. We understand about ideological complexity; we can handle it. Here is how it happens.
First, we have to come to terms with just how much many teens can become teen-aholics. They can become so immersed in the job of forming and maintaining bonds with their peers, that when they are at home, they naturally seem completely overworked and exhausted. They may have little energy, seem distracted, stressed or just anxious to get back to work.
Many teens don’t even realize that they are stressed, because they are so immersed and busy with their work. They are in denial. When a parent sees a teen who doesn’t want, even for an afternoon, to leave the work of being a teen, they are being exposed to this total-immersion teen-aholic phenomenon.
Once the parent has come to terms with the teen-aholic problem, she must simply ignore it. Finally, parenting advice that is simple and straightforward, like a dream come true: just ignore the child’s feelings completely.
So Alexa’s mother decides to enjoy her hot beverage, some shopping and finally, dinner with her sullen child. She ignores Alexa’s funk entirely as well as any residual feelings of being in a funk herself that may have inadvertently gotten induced, and she starts to chat with Alexa about a neighbor. Pretty soon, Alexa starts to relax. When she is relaxed, she is more likely to be able to temporarily release her grip on the teen-aholicism and just enjoy being a daughter.
So stay relaxed and hope that your teen can relax, rather than allowing your stressed teen to make you stressed. Emotions are contagious, so watch your step. Take a deep breath, take it all in, and when your teen, who loves you and needs you so very much, gives you that hurried, guiltless hug, close your eyes and drink it in. That, right there, is what you absolutely can’t ignore.