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Reining in rebellious teen similar to handling a toddler

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Reining in rebellious teen similar to handling a toddler

Boston: What do you do when you've got a potential Jezebel on your hands? My 14-year-old daughter is growing into her teenage body and has not learned the nuances of good taste. I have to object to her outfits literally every morning, which puts a strain on our already typical mother/adolescent-daughter relationship. Her father and I have caught her in multiple lies that revolved around her relationship with some boy in her class.

She has always been precocious, but I think she's growing into a full-on fast-tracker, and I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't find a way to rein her in. However, I know there are other girls just like her and worse, and I worry I may be making a mountain out of a molehill. What do you think?

Carolyn: I don't think it's a mountain out of a molehill. I do think, though, that if your only strategy is to regard her as a monster (Jezebel?!) who needs to be reined in, then your mountain will only get steeper.

It may seem like you're in a whole new child-rearing era, but this is really just Toddlerhood II: The Revenge. Developmentally, it's the second big push for independence.

Meanwhile, all people, not just 2- to 5-year-olds, get willful as they yearn for more independence than they have. True of adolescents, colonists, underpaid workers — history is littered with them.

When you're the leader, and when simply granting more independence isn't feasible ("Go ahead, Sweetie, dress like a slut"), then you have to get creative, and find ways to empower your rebels that won't undermine your own leadership.

That means finding areas where it would be safe for her to flex her independence a bit. Since you're rightly worried about the new dynamic of your relationship, where you just say "no" all the time and she just pulls away from you with increasing urgency, I'd suggest looking for something that you and she, or you and the family, can do together. A sport, a hobby, camping, paintball, cooking, yoga, anything that transpires outside the scrutiny of her peers (for whom she might be tempted to perform). It can be your initiative, but let her choose what you do.

If she's not open to anything family-oriented, then look for something she'd enjoy independently that's similarly unpolluted by boy-craziness, and that's available in some competently supervised form.

If she doesn't have any such interests, that may be the problem: Without something grounding them, it's easy for people to get over-invested in the social moment. If that's the case here, then it falls to you to try to introduce a non-punitive outlet. A charitable cause might accomplish two things at once: giving her responsibilities to help her flex a bit, and getting her out of her own exposed navel and into a larger world.

Just as your daughter's rebellion harks back to toddlerhood, the solution does, too. Digging in and saying "NO! NO! NO!" to someone usually starts a tantrum; distracting and redirecting someone usually stops one before it starts.

And, bonus, the more she invests in this as-yet-unnamed activity, the more pride she can take in her own strength/ingenuity/hard work, and the less vulnerable she'll be to the whims of peer adulation.

Reining in rebellious teen similar to handling a toddler 10/11/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 11, 2009 4:30am]
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