By Heather Riggleman, Crosswalk.com
“Victoria Grace, did you hear what I said?” I responded in a nonchalant voicetone to Tori’s insistent pleas for her phone.
“Fine! You don’t care if I have a social life or not,” she grumbled as she stomped off to her room. I gripped the kitchen counter until my knuckles turned white and I thought my nails were going to break. I counted to what seemed like a million. I just kept reminding myself what it was like for me at that age.
Currently I have two teenagers and one tween under my roof. Yes, it does sound scary but these are some of the best years of parenting. Your child suddenly begins showing signs of who they will be as adults. Trust me, they will grow out of snapping at you or have the crazy hormonal outbursts.
Raising teenagers is no easy task. They’re dramatic, irrational and seem to fly off the handle for no good reason. There are also so many things going on under the surface we forget about. Their bodies are growing at an alarming rate. Their brains are going through rapid changes too. Then suddenly nature introduces hormones; add in the pressures from school and it’s the perfect recipe for World War Three. You find yourself wondering if you’re negotiating with terrorists instead of a teenager.
This is actually normal, if not healthy. Your child is still your child, but just a more emotional and dramatic version of themselves. They crave being heard and understood while navigating school, friends and other relationships and additional external pressures.
Everything seems like it has to be fixed or perfected right now otherwise it’s the end of the world. You wonder if you’re parenting them right or if God made a mistake making you a parent. We have all felt that way. Remember this, God chose you to parent your teen. No one else can parent them like you can. Here are four things to keep in mind when your teen snaps at you.
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1. Teens are going through physical changes at warp speed.
After the infancy years, the brain’s most dramatic growth spurts occur in adolescence. It’s hard to counter their outbursts with compassion when your 5 foot 10 inch tall son towers over you compared to when he was a baby. Somehow, it’s hard to remember they are still just children in need of counsel, discipline, repetition of rules and a whole lot of Jesus. They’re still in a developmental stage.
"The brain continues to change throughout life, but there are huge leaps in development during adolescence," said Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In a study published in 1999 in Nature Neuroscience, they discovered another neuronal burst of growth right before puberty and continues structural reorganization of the brain until the age of 24.
They are also developing new cognitive skills and competencies according to Sheryl Feinstein, author of Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress.
Even in moments like this, it’s also important to help them develop spiritually. Gary Thomas’ book Scared Pathways is a fantastic resource for that helps people identify ways to connect with God. Not only will this help your teen develop faith practices but it will aid in how they process their outbursts. It can help you as a parent when you’re white knuckling your counters. For example, if your teen learns they connect best with God through dance and music, you can tell them to grab their iTunes and chill.
2. Teens have a deep need for independence but still need you.
Billy asked if he could hang out with friends after the school dance. Because nothing good ever happens after 10 p.m. when teenagers are involved, you told him the answer was, “no” and that he needed to be home right after the dance. He snaps at you, muttering, “I’m 15 and you treat me like I’m 10,” before storming out of the room. But what you may not realize is this: he is somewhat relieved that you put boundaries and structure in place. He knows that his friends aren’t making good choices. He knows you love him deeply.
When my kids snap at me in situations like this, I simply reply, “I love you too much to let you do that.” Truth be told, we as adults act this way towards Christ. He reminds of us our actions and tenderly convicts us when we stray. We want to be independent but we know we need to be entirely dependent on Christ. God is growing us each day where there is less of us and more of him. It’s the same for our kids.
We aren’t raising children, we are raising mini-adults. We are raising the next generation. Nowhere does it say in the Bible or any parenting books that we are to raise children to live in our basements. Although Genesis 2:24 references marriage, it’s a reminder they will leave us. From the moment they learn to walk, our children are gaining independence in order to go out into the world.
Separating from the family and establishing autonomy is what they were born to do but that does not mean they don’t need you. They still need structure, rules and guidence. They still need you to set the example. One of the most influential ways to parent your teen is to be a role model when dealing with stress and other life difficulties. Teens are in the active stages of developing their own coping strategies.
As much as teenagers might not want to admit it, they still need their parents. They need them for love and support, structure, guidance and boundaries. Without all of these things, it is difficult to navigate the transition from teen to adult.
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3. Teens are still learning to carry their own cross.
All of Billy’s friends have the latest iPhones and he wants one. You considered it but when you saw the price tag of $1000 for the phone, you told him this:
“I appreciate that you want to have more privileges like owning a brand new iPhone, but it’s $1,000. You have two choices: purchase a refurbished phone with your own money or buy the brand new one with your own money. Either way, you will need to pay for the monthly plan and any additional fees that may arise with your usage.”
Your teen says some not so nice things including how life isn’t fair and how you aren’t fair.
Often, behind the tantrums and outbursts of teens, is because they are still growing out self centeredness and entitlement. From the moment they were born, the world revolved around them. It was just cuter back then. We didn’t mind answering their cries of hunger or needing comfort. They feel entitled to have their wants met. They want maximum freedom without us holding their hands. However, teenagers thrive when they feel they are doing something meaningful or contributing to a purpose.
The key to helping your teen grow out of entitlement is teaching the difference between rights and privileges. A cell phone is a privilege, a warm bed is a right. Often times when your teen snaps at you, he has these two confused. The key is to teach the difference and model a surrendered life to Christ instead of a “me focused” attitude. Romans 1:21 reminds us of the difference.
Romans 1:21 “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
4. Teens don't mean it personally
You come home from work and find that Billy hasn’t completed his chores, it’s the third time this week that this has happened. You decide it’s time to take away his privileges, cell phone, the car, whatever it may be. Billy overreacts, yells, huffs and rolls his eyes at you. The key here is to remember this: Don’t take it personally. Keep your emotions and feelings of disrespect OUT of the equation.
Should Billy have acted this way? No. Was it a personal stab at you? Probably not. At least not unless you’ve taken it personally so many times that his outbursts have power and he knows it.
Parents who take every little provocation personally are teaching their teens that they are so very powerful with their every move. A friend of mine taught me the difference when I was at my wits end with my son. “You either focus on every little jab he takes at you or you can empty the swamp.”
This phrase allowed me focus on the issue at hand without losing my cool when he snapped, snarled or eye rolled. This also allowed me to model Christ like behavior during these moments as well.
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone) with her three kids and husband of 20 years. She writes to bring bold truths to marriage, career, mental health, faith, relationships, celebration and heartache. Heather is a former national award-winning journalist and is the author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at heatherriggleman.com.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Victoria Heath