The Origins of Fighting with your Teenager

Your child has entered the teenage years. You enjoyed the first thirteen years of your child’s life. You worried about them every day. You changed so many diapers during their early years and watched with a smile on your face as their team placed first in the sixth grade soccer championship. You guided them through the struggles in life such as bruised shins and taking their first test at school.

Those years must have been the most difficult, right? They were totally dependent upon you and that took a great deal of your energy. Shouldn’t it be easier now that they are teenagers? They are more independent and don’t need your help in every situation. They can also help you around the house and in the garden. They can take care of themselves if you want a night out on the town. You can converse with them about subjects you will both enjoy, right?

So what goes wrong when they hit that 13th Birthday??? In many cultures they would now be considered adults – old enough to marry, old enough to sit in the village council to listen to the debates with the elders. Yet in the West, the teen years seem, so often, to be full of strife and conflict. Why does this occur?

There are two parts to the answer: biology and culture.

The brain is intricate. It is in a great state of growth and development during the teenage years. It is always growing, expanding, evaluating, and making links. These links build the foundation for memory, learning, perception, and social rationale.

From birth through age 12, your child’s brain experiences and learns a large amount. At birth the brain communicates through non-verbal means and by age 12 your child can communicate through effective verbal and reasoning means.

And then it all falls apart. Quite literally, during the teen years the brain completely re-wires itself. And while it does so, it actually LOSES some of its previous abilities and skills. This is most noticeable in the area of social communication. The teen years are, pre-eminently, a time of learning how to be a social being – how to form and maintain social attachments – to society, to friends and, of course, ultimately to a sexual mate.

But learning this stuff is difficult. The brain has to operate in these fields while, at the same time, it is re- programming itself to a much greater degree of sophistication that it had in the pre-teen years. And that is what causes such variability in their social functioning: At times they are acutely aware of social nuances. At other times they just don’t seem to get it.

This conflict is also affected greatly by the ups and downs of their sex hormones. Plus, teens tend to stay up late and lose out on much needed sleep. These factors together can make for one irritable teenager.

But there is more, and this is the second factor: The teen years are also a time of shifting expectations. The language of expectations is contained in words such as “should”, “ought”, “at this age”, “normal”. And the teen years seem to be especially filled with such words – what should a 13, 14, 16 year old be allowed/expected to do? What expectations of “normal” behavior do the parents, the teenager, the friends, the teachers, the neighbors, the police, the society have? Are they not often very confused and mixed?

This leads into the problem with forcing expectations. If you have one, then there is the possibility that your expectation will not be met. A behavior that is considered a “no-no” is turned into a big problem.

The combination of the varying expectations, sex hormones, and plain teenage angst cause your teenager to act like a pleasant dear one minute and a force to be reckoned with the next.

So, how do you manage all of this? Here are some ideas. Next time you are in an argument with your teen – or getting frustrated with his or her behavior, consider the following:

1) Bickering and yelling will get you no closer to a resolution.

2) Your teenager wants to have the best outcome as well. They are relying on the extent of their perceptions and skills which could be far different from yours.

3) Your teen might be just as confused as you are as to why you keep getting in arguments!

4) Why is it such a potent problem? Whose expectation has not been met? Is this really a devastating problem in the big world of life?

5) Is there another way of motivating your teenager to comply, other than trying to bully him?

6) Your teenager will outgrow the teenager years in a matter of a few years. Think about the future and what kind of memories you want to create.

With that being said, it is a good idea to have rules and expectations. However, don’t get so uptight. Don’t be so strict that your teenager wants to avoid you. Determine how to have fun together so you can both get through the teenage years with smiles on your faces and love in your hearts.