The Joys of Moody Teen Syndrome (MTS)

moody teen rolling her eyes, on cellphoneMy youngest is just about 13 and you’d think that with her being my third teenager, I’d be an old hand and quite capable of dealing with the chaos, the mood swings, the self-absorption and the entitlement of the teen brain. Usually I’d say yes, but teens are a peculiar beast and while 90% of the time they may be predictable and understandable, that other 10% of the time can be crazy and, more importantly, crazy-making.

The greatest challenge with raising a teen is unquestionably to not take it all personally. Which is easy to say but remembering that when it’s a moment of high moodiness, when every sentence starts or ends with an eye roll and a sigh, when the most rudimentary of requests seems to be on par with a request to donate a pint of blood, well…

I’ve been to non-violent communication workshops, I’ve been to love and logic workshops, I’ve attended lots of different discussions in the hope of finding a slightly better approach, a different way to talk about or frame things so I can be more effective and successful as a parent. And with all of them, it’s easy to use the tools when things are running smoothly, but when it’s difficult? Then remembering that NVC tip, or the ‘reflective listening’ recommended by the latest child psych book can be extraordinarily difficult.

Heck, there’s even research about why teens – and particularly teen girls – roll their eyes! You can read about it in the New York Times, for example, or Psychology Today. The NYT explains “the drive for autonomy is a central force during adolescence”, pretty much what I’ve been saying here, but PT has a more succinct explanation: “Living day-in-and-day-out with teenagers in the midst of their identity search is one of the greatest challenges you will confront.”

Me? I’ve started to think in terms of what I call moody teen syndrome. If you have a teen (or a child close to the teen years) you know what I mean. It’s the sense they’re exuding that if you weren’t in the loop, they’d be so much happier and things would be so much easier. Oh, and can you give ’em a ride to the Mall and front them $20 too?

Adolescence is a journey that takes a child from self-absorbed, inner-aware to an awakening to the world around them and a sense of others in the world, of greater issues and challenges, and of being able to care about and serve others. I don’t believe any child is naturally philanthropic, as an example, so we parents need to demonstrate our own selfless behaviors (even just contributing to a local charity) even as we also know our teens will likely ignore us or even roll their eyes theatrically when we talk about helping an impoverished child in Tibet or aid in Haiti post-hurricane.

I’ve been watching MTS (remember: moody teen syndrome) on this holiday weekend as my 12yo is with me solo and almost all of her friends are busy with their own families or even out of town. So we’re kind of stuck together and her frustration and disappointment sometimes comes out aimed at me, your humble parent narrator.

So we have interactions like this:

me: “Can you come down so we can figure out dinner?”

her: (sighs) barely audible: “not hungry. whatever.”

me: “Please come out of your room so we can at least talk about our evening plans.”

her: after much delay, steps out. “what?”

me: “We need to figure out dinner. Let’s get something rolling…”

her: “not hungry” (rolls eyes) (sighs)

me: “I hear that, but let’s figure something out!”

her: “not hungry. Gaaahhhhhhd.” (grunt) Goes back in her room, sighing as she closes the door.

Sound familiar, teen parents? What’s important is to recognize that it’s not you, Mom or Dad, it’s them and their internal state. It’s my daughter’s wrestling with food, schedules, and predictability versus laziness and a desire to just have things happen when they happen.

My solution? Since I don’t have other children in the house that I need to worry about, I’ve taken to letting her have lots of latitude with things like when we eat, or even just eating separately. After all, if we’re still talking when she’s poised to be 13yo, perhaps that’s a harbinger of us being able to continue talking when she’s 15 or 16. And then the stakes are going to definitely be higher…

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