Advice about Parenting Teenagers

Parent Q&A

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  • My 14 year old son, who is really getting into mountain biking, rode through a stop sign without looking and was hit by a car.  Mercifully we were very very lucky and he was not seriously hurt.  He has always had the attitude that nothing will happen, that he doesn't really need to watch for cars etc.  He -seems- to have learned something from this but is still talking with a tone that he doesn't not need to be more careful.  ANY advice on how to approach this would be much appreciated.  I've seen articles about how at this age their brain isn't motivated by fear of something bad happening (or else humans would never have left Africa) and we don't want to discourage the exercise and community he is getting but that phone call from the fire department on the scene is not something we ever want to go through again.  Thanks!

    Is he on a MTB team? I'd get him into a serious MTB program and talk to the coaches about your concerns. They will help him learn how to conduct himself and he'll probably listen to coaches he respects. I will say my kid only settled down after he was seriously injured and was off all sports for 8 months. 

  • When a child/teen blames their mom for all their problems, just because mom doesn't allow them to sit all day in front of screens, does this have a name? Is this some kind of syndrome or disorder that has an official name? Trying to find some help but I am not sure what exactly I should be searching for? Any ideas?

    Hi, I think it’s called being a kid/teen during/post Covid. My 14-year-old 8th-grader would like to lay in her bed all weekend and after school watching Netflix and YouTube. Plus some texting and calls…add to that a new opposition to healthy food and all her old favorites and refusing to do her chores and a hair-trigger defensive reaction to anything I say. And yes, nothing right now is her fault and I’m (mom) to blame for everything.

    For me it’s lonely and exasperating and infuriating. I have firm screen time rules that she complains about endlessly. I just keep hoping for other interests to kick in. Sometimes I think we ALL are depressed with life’s pressures for perfection and throw in bad air quality, fires and the threat of power outages, the recall election and many other crazy things. 
    Sending patience and please take care of yourself. 

    Sounds like you are having a really hard time with this issue. I totally understand because kids have so many distractions such as video games, Netflix, and social media and we want to see them being productive and active. I actually don't have an answer for you and I am not a psychologist. I don't know it is a "named" syndrome, but there are predictable dynamics at work here. I know that communication can break down between parents and kids. Have you evaluated the quality of the communication you use to explain your feelings about their behavior? While it was over 40 years ago when I left home, I was very angry with my parents and blamed them for a lot of my issues because they were always telling me how to live my life and their love for me seem so conditional on whether I would be the person they wanted me to be. They just could not listen to me or let me figure out what was right for me. Certainly, kids under 13 need a lot of direction, but by the time they are teens, they want to know they have more autonomy in how to run their lives. With my own teen/young adult kids, I have realized the only thing I can do is to work on my communication with them. I have working on using active or reflective listening skills. A good author to check out is Thomas Gordon who wrote "Parent Effectiveness Training". 

    I think it’s a desperate move to get you to change your mind, and to hurt you. I think it’s very common — so common that it doesn’t have a name. 
    My son often used it, and I weathered it because I felt confident about the decision I had made. 

    I thing they call this condition "adolescence".  >.<
    I feel your pain! Unfortunately, I think it's a completely "normal" albeit very unpleasant behavior/ part of their psychological process.

    Hey, this could be me you are talking about (the kid's Mom who is blamed for everything)! The situation bites and I feel I can't win. I'm blamed for 'ruining' their life, when most of the time, our only real problems stem from us just trying to get them offline and into the mix of our life and family. My child is 15.

    Maybe the child is angry at mom.  In which case, therapy for child, or therapy for mom, or both, might help.  If a kid is angry, they can blame mom for everything (from personal experience).  And maybe a trip to the pediatrician to make sure there is not a medical problem.

  • It is normal - right? -  to hear your 16 year old girl say things like “everyone else is best friends with their mom” when complaining that she can’t stand to be around her parents during the pandemic. You’re not really all best friends with your teen girls? She is an only child and says she has spent 16 years waiting to get away from us. That one I *do* know is an exaggeration because pre-pandemic she was a pretty happy, social, and engaged kid. 

    I am trying to tell myself that were we not in a pandemic, this is exactly when she would have been separating from us and seeing everything we do as wrong. And it just so happens that because of the pandemic she is isolated with very little positive in her life — so it makes her skin crawl to be around us at this point. I see intellectually that if it weren’t for the pandemic we would probably still be struggling but it might have been balanced with positive peer interactions that make us not seem so bad.

    Others have gone through this - right? - and eventually regained a relationship with their young adult kids?

    Sorry you are going through this. My son just turned 20 years old and we haven't been best friends ever since he turned 16. He's extremely immature, so I am hoping that he'll become his old sweet self by the time he's 25 or 30, but I am not holding my breath. Your daughter sounds like she's looking for ways to hurt you. It's emotional blackmail that girls excel at. My 8 year old says hurtful things like that when she's particularly angry and I call that out when it happens. My son hasn't done much of that until recently, since it's a more sophisticated way to be mean, but now he does that too.  I've learned to recognize it as attempts to make me feel bad, but it's still hard not to care.

    Oh, and we are parents to our kids, not friends of any kind, let alone bffs. We provide for them, keep them safe, and of course love them, but we should also expect them to contribute back to the family and respect us. If you want to have a daily family dinner, it's your right as a parent to have her be there, help make it, set the table and be civilized with the phone off during it.  If they love us and enjoy being with us, that's an icing on the cake, but not the requirement. Yeah, pandemic sucks. And yet, she's got shelter, food, clothing, education and the spoils of modern society thanks to you working your butt off, which isn't easy during the pandemic either. How about her?  Is she a joy to be around? Has she ever considered how it is for you as parents to be around her? 

    Anyway, she sounds like a typical entitled teen.  I come from a 3rd world country, and kids never had those kinds of argument with their parents.  Life was too hard and scary to be bothered with existential questions like this. One was grateful to have a home and food, and people who cared about them. Here in the US, kids remain kids till their 30s because we shelter them too much. Don't know about your daughter, but my son never had to cook for himself, I still do his laundry, and he almost never does his only chore which is to throw away the garbage.  Maybe it's not too late for your daughter to become a full fledged member of the family, the kind that doesn't just keeps taking and then complains that you guys aren't fun to be around, but the kind that's considerate and cares about you and contributes. 

    I am also the mom of a single child, a boy, 15. While he does complain and exaggerate, he doesn’t hate us and also isn’t best friends with us. I am certain that he doesn’t feel he can’t wait to leave us etc.  Personally, I’d listen to what she’s telling you and I’d take it seriously. The pandemic is probably amplifying her feelings, but this does sound a bit like depression. And if you love her, do you really want her to feel not close to you, and like she can’t wait to leave? I have a dear friend with a very challenging 16 year old (only child) daughter, who will readily say she loves her parents and isn’t itching to leave - even tho they for sure drive her crazy too. Again, probably not “best friends” but not in this kind of pain either. If my child ever says these things, I’ll ask WHY and listen quietly and very carefully, and probably get a family therapist. 

    Absolutely frickin normal. When I went through this painful process with my daughter I was told the startling truth that the fact that we used to be close the harder she had to push me away and claim her independence. (She started to push away when she was 12!) I remember the fact I was breathing was annoying to her! I mourned the loss of my daughter but trusted (as best I could) in the knowledge that she would come back to me one day. She went off to college and gained the independence she needed. We are very close now.

    Going through it now with my son and hoping it’s normal (he is also an only child). I take it with a grain of salt and a sense of humor even though it is exhausting and annoying. Hoping we bounce back once he’s off to college and beyond. 

    Ummm, no, I am not besties with my daughter. She loves me, but I am the object of ridicule for my singing, dirty feet and too loud talking. Being trapped with a teen daughter in my home during a pandemic has been hard! I'm not sure where she's getting the 'everyone is best friends with their mom' idea, but it certainly doesn't ring true to me. I was the same way with my mom. I eventually found her to be a treasure. 

    I don't have the "eventually" part of the story yet, but I can tell you that my 13-year old girl is going through something very similar, so that's a definite NO on all moms and teenage daughters being best friends. Our daughter went from being a happy, extroverted, sports-loving goofy kid pre-pandemic to cutting off all her hair, dying it, and wearing mostly black oversized clothes now, with eye-rolling and sarcasm being inevitable parts of our interactions. I consider it both normal in terms of the separation process, but also an understandable side effect of the pandemic. For us, I think puberty and the pandemic collided. The silver lining for you is that this didn't happen until your daughter was 16. But I know how hard it is to feel like you have lost that special relationship, and how hard it is to stay calm through the unkind words. I think you are correct that even without the pandemic, your daughter would likely be going through some kind of separation phase. I have talked with a lot of people who tell me to just be supportive and ride it out - that they do come back to themselves eventually. Good luck, and know that you are not alone.

    I asked my 16 year old daughter what she thought. We are pretty close but I don't think we'd say we're best friends - she has friends to be best friends with and her parents love her and vice versa. She said she's observed that kids, especially girls who are only children that she knows talk and think similarly. Having a sibling changes the dynamic when you have a co-conspirator to complain to your parents about LOL! Seriously though, I wouldn't worry too much - they do need to separate and maybe this is just her way - hang in there - by fall she should be back in school and she'll have more space to appreciate you! Good luck!

    From the other side -- I was just talking with a fellow parent (we met when our kids were in preschool) and we agreed that after age 22 our annoying, aggravating, misbehaving adolescents came around again and now are the decent, kind, responsible young adults we were hoping for after all the high school drama/trauma.  Hope this happens for you too!

    Hi there,

    Yes, that's normal, no, the others are not all best friends with their mom.

    I am in the same position.  Two teens who were already annoyed with me but it has increased 10 fold with being cooped up together.  What helps me is this study I heard about.  They looked at the activity in the part of the brain that gives you anxiety and agitation -- the amygdala -- in juvenile mice.  They found that baby and child mice got more anxious when they were separated from their mother, and their anxiety decreased when reunited with their mother.  This is clearly the case in most if not all mammals and makes evolutionary sense because it causes these vulnerable youngsters to cling and run to their mothers.  However, when the mice reached adolescence, they started having the opposite reaction -- they were MORE anxious when close to their mothers and LESS anxious when away from their mothers.  This also makes evolutionary sense:  it causes the mice to grow up and move away from their mothers and find their own way in the world. Well, it turns out humans have this experience too.  I don't know if anyone has studied the amygdalas of adolescent humans, but we CLEARLY see this in action.  Our teens feel the same agitation when close to their parents that makes them want to be away from us and instead with friends. Their brains actually cause this reaction to us and they know they'll feel better when they have distance from us.  This is obvious but the mice thing helps me get that we are all just mammals.

    During the pandemic these kids cannot do what they are programmed to do (get distance from us), and it is raising their anxiety and irritation.  We are the usual target for expressing that.  I think my 17.5-year-old has reached his peak and is actually slightly less rude toward us.  I'm hoping that's the way we're heading.  It's bound to happen at some point....

    Best of luck surviving this very long phase.

    Another parent from the other side... yes -- 22 was a definite turning point with my daughter. And believe me, she was a handful. Now, the person I had hoped was hiding in there somewhere has shown her face, and everything is so, so much better for us all. You will get through it, and it will be better. Have faith, and soldier forth.

  • 16yo son’s habits are driving me crazy!

    (15 replies)

    I could use some practical advice to influence my son’s increasingly unproductive habits. Since SIP, he sleeps/ wakes up later and later. And when he is awake he is sooooooo lazzzzyyyyyyy!  He’s 16 and strong-willed, so forcing him to get up and be productive is a recipe for disaster. Can I do it? Yes, and I have. Took his phone (I still take it overnight), gave him extra chores to “drive” productivity, etc. But it was miserable all the time and our relationship was breaking down — hasn’t actually fully recovered from that period of ongoing conflict and anger. 

    A typical day:

    - He wakes up at 1 or 2 pm. I laugh at the days I was so dismayed that he would sleep till noon! 
    - Attends whatever he’s forced to wake up for — we have him set up for enrichment and volunteer stuff that he selected. An hour and a half MAX. If the appointment starts earlier he’ll most certainly go back to bed. 
    - Eats, gets on his phone — usually in a supine position — for a few HOURS, and sometimes actually goes back to bed to “rest” (from what????!!!!!!!!!)

    - Practices basketball for an hour and a half between ~6-8

    - Eats dinner 

    - More screen coma

    - I take his phone at midnight. No screens in his room overnight. That’s our rule since forever. On the rare occasion I forget to take it he can stay up til 4 AM 
    - He still stays up until at least 2 AM, which of course guarantees he won’t wake up till 1 or 2 pm the next day: showering, applying his face routine (he’s obsessed with managing his acne), sometimes does exercises which of course keeps him revved up — essentially doing all the things he should be doing during the day. 
    - Sleeps for 12 hours. 12 HOURS!!!

    I am acutely aware that his habits might trigger me more than most because I am a classic Type A. However, this routine can’t be a good thing right? I feel like he’s living half a life and it kills me to watch. I’ve asked if he’s depressed and he’s made it quite clear that the ONLY thing that makes him feel bad is when I judge his choice to exist like this. We’ve discussed all the different opportunities that open up through the simple act of being awake when the rest of the world is active. It’s exhausting and frankly just disappointing to watch him waste his youth and energy. More than anything I’m very worried that these habits might take root in such a way that influences his lifestyle in the long term. Such a lethargic way of existing rarely leads to contentment, right?

    I don't have any supportive tips or advice. But I did want to say you are not alone; I am similarly situated. And it's excruciating to be in the parenting role with this type of thing - every direct engagement with my son is combative but disengaging feels complicit. I am working with a therapist who's got child development expertise. This helps me stay grounded (some days at least). Hang in there.

    That would drive me crazy too. I wish I had magical advice. I have 16 year old too. This is what we do for her. We made a habit chart because we both agreed that me nagging was not good for either of us. She decided what should go on the chart with some prompting from me: Move your body (this can be a walk or indoor exercise), unplug, do something for the house (this can be a chore or cooking), go outside, complete your habit chart, socialize with someone (this can be a text or playing an online game). I gave her complete autonomy and authority over what counts as what. She has not been completing the chart lately--so I'll say "your habit chart needs some love." But, what I mean is filling the chart out, not doing the stuff that is on it. I have asked her to think back and she has figured out that she does feel better when she does more things on her chart. My son doesn't need a chart, but has done better about having routines during his day. I think the key is to get buy in from your kid, which I'm not sure is going to be easy with your son. The other key, I think is to take baby steps and have him have a huge say in what goes on the chart. One thing we learned was about the "do something for the house" -- nothing ever got done. I put a list on the fridge of possible chores that would only take 15 minutes each. Still nothing. So, I was asked to provide a list in the AM of what should be done that day. Then it got done! So, a buy in to the importance of not just sitting around all day, collaboration on what should go on the chart, acceptance that very small, small, insignificant efforts constitute a win and a check-off on the chart, and editing as you go to suit your family? We also agreed that weekends were weekends and sloth was acceptable. Made that deal to get more of a buy in for weekdays. . . Good luck! 

    Was your son like this before SIP? If so, I would suggest he IS depressed and/or has a problem with executive functioning. One of the best things you could do for him in this situation (and I speak from experience) is to set a daytime screen (phone/pad/gaming system) limit of 2-3 hours with a cut-off time of 9pm.  He will hate you for a few weeks and then will begin to wake up from the coma and have a chance, at least, to re-engage with life.

    If he was a much more productive, energetic, happy teenager before SIP then maybe this is just his way of coping with the pandemic and after it's over he will return fairly easily to his former self. That doesn't make his present behavior any less frustrating (I feel your pain as I too am a type A) but it might at least allow you to be less worried about him.

    Best of luck to you. 

    You are not alone.  Most adults are fighting the urge to do what your son is doing but we can’t because we have adult lives.  My daughter is 14 and is behaving in a similar way.  She comes out for meals and spends a ton of time on her phone connecting with her friends

    as long as she is getting exercise and her mood is good I generally give her a break.  Their worlds are so different and isolating now.  They may just feel like hiding u til it’s over.  They have to find their way in this strange time.  And it could be a low level of depression.  It all depends on whether he is behaving very differently than he was before COVID.

    I want to say I feel your pain and would be very surprised if many parents of teenagers weren't nodding their heads as they read your post.  My 15 year old maintains a slightly better sleep schedule but similar screen habits.  COVID has really done a number on all of us and has directly impacted how he normally manages himself. 

    It's hard not to be triggered when you see that side indent on the bed in the shape of your son holding his phone surfing through Instagram?  Tik Tock?  Sigh.  I've decided to step back and control what I can which is me and how I react.  I value any time he wants to spend with me and encourage healthy choices.  Trying to control what he does just leads to irritation for both of us.  I am a firm believer in natural consequences and I refuse to push my choices on him so he can avoid those happening.  Otherwise how will he learn?  I focus on the productive things he does- track workouts, healthy eating, healthy friend connections (limited as they are), and repeat the mantra "this too shall pass".  Kids are resilient.  Trying to control or impart what "I" would be doing (I'm an adult, he's a teenager) doesn't matter and isn't relevant.  This is a challenging time for all of us especially our teens.

    Wishing you the best- and know you are not alone. :)

    I have to say, his sleep habits sound pretty similar to my teenage boys - the way I see it, teenagers are naturally nocturnal, and the shelter-in-place has just enabled them to revert to their natural rhythms. Their bodies are doing a lot of changing and growing at this stage, so 12 hours of sleep doesn't seem too unreasonable. I know I drove my up-at-the-crack-of-dawn former-farmer dad crazy with my hours when I was a teen, and now I'm a productive member of society, so I think it's a pretty normal phase. As long as he's getting some outside time/exercise every day, and the sleeping doesn't seem to be a response to depression, I think he's okay. The only thing I might address if it were my kid is to try to get him to spend a little less of his 12 waking hours on the phone, although I know that's a tough battle to fight - maybe there's another pastime he could cultivate - learning a musical instrument, volunteering (there are virtual options at VolunteerMatch and others), some kind of creative endeavor, reading, making videos to teach others a skill he has, etc.? Even if it's more screen-time, there are great online lessons for all kinds of things, from playing guitar to making zines; the trick is finding what he's passionate about. (If all else fails, remind him he needs some hobbies/volunteering to write about on his college applications!) You could also give him some chores he needs to complete around the house every week, to give him some structure and contribute to the family, although in my experience teens take some reminding/management in that department that might give you more aggravation. :) And maybe having a regular school schedule now, even an online one, will help even things out. Good luck! My guess is it's just a phase and he won't be a layabout forever, even though I understand it's grating on you right now.

    This is kind of a cute post.  He's 16, goes to bed late and sleeps late?  Normal.  Sleeps 12 hours? Normal. Lot's of screen time?  Annoying to parents, but normal.  Fighting parents for control of his life?  Normal, normal, normal--he's a teenager.  Here's what I see:  a kid who as far as I can tell--since you didn't mention academics--is doing fine in school, attends volunteer and enrichment programs DURING THE SUMMER because his parents want him to.  Gets regular exercise, maintains hygiene, not involved in dangerous activities, has social life.  It might be online, but that's normal for this generation, and especially during SIP.  To answer your question, such a lethargic way of existing is normal, healthy, allows him to recharge his batteries.  When he is ready to be the Type A overscheduled person you want, he will do it of his own volition, because that's what HE wants.  Just let go, everyone will be happier including you. 

    Hello, please be kind to yourself, this is a really hard time for families. And you can start making course corrections now also. I have a 17 year old son who also struggles. His bedtime (has to be in his room without any electronics except for a regular radio) is at 10 pm. The phone gets plugged into the charger in the kitchen at 9 pm.  I have the parental controls on the WiFi allowing him 2 hrs of use between 7:30 am & 7:30 pm.  I can’t make him go to sleep at 10 pm, but he generally does. 

    I made two colorful signs that he had to fill in a month ago, once I realized that we were on a slippery slope. The signs are hanging up in the kitchen now. The first is his goals —both short & long-term. And he can always add to it. The second lists Constructive Activities. Again, I had him fill it out and also gave him a few suggestions. He has to do something from the Constructive Activities or something that will make progress on his goals every day. If he wants TV time or some other privilege, he can earn that with a Constructive Activity or an extra chore. And I do take him out once a day so he can walk solo (without me!) in his favorite park, where there are girls he knows who hang out. 

    He also has online school from 830 until 315, which takes up a big chunk of his weekdays. 

    First, it is NOT intrinsically unhealthy for a teenager to sleep from 2am to noon, or for that matter from 4am to 2pm.  Nor would I be much concerned about a teen sleeping 12 hours a day when on vacation. Given how many teens (and adults, of course) do not get enough sleep, and suffer from that in all sorts of often-subtle ways, I would never do anything to discourage anyone from settling into their personally natural sleep rhythm when there's no specific reason that they have to be awake and alert in the morning!  I'm a night owl, always have been, and when I'm on vacation with schedule flexibility, 2am-noon is my natural sleep period.  Teenagers are even more likely than crones like me to have a night owl rhythm, and I cannot even begin to tell you how irritating it is that so many "morning larks" think that being more energetic and productive at night and slow in the mornings is somehow morally inferior to the reverse.  It is not.

    But second, you also have an issue with how he's spending his time when he is awake.  I'm more sympathetic there, because the glued-to-the-screen habits really are unhealthy, and besides, mama needs some chores done!  But I think that this is a problem that will largely solve itself once the school schedule starts up again. A 16-year-old who is not particularly goal-oriented is not doomed to become a lazy and discontented adult. Given the issues with getting a paying job in the pandemic, my expectations for my teens this summer have been low.  Your son is already doing more than what I'd consider the minimum -- some physical activity, dinner, and some enrichment/volunteer activities -- although I'd add some household work.  But I don't require my kids to be awake at any set time, other than they're expected to join (and sometimes, to prepare) the family dinner.  Perhaps your son would be interested in taking on a project that would either relate to some personal goal, or would be helpful to your family/household (or even both), which he could do at whatever times are best for him but the pursuit of which would get him off of his phone for at least a few hours a day and reduce your frustrations about him wasting his time.  Clean out the garage, build a deck, create an app, learn a new language?  Research college choices and likely application requirements in the age of COVID?  I think that if you see him making progress toward a specific goal in that way, you may be less upset by the fact that the progress mostly happens after your own bedtime. :) 

    Sounds super familiar. Our 15 yo daughter was doing the same without any volunteering, enrichment or basketball. She didn’t really finish the spring semester so she might be missing credits. Also decided to not take her ADHD meds any more. I just had to love her through it. After saying there was no way she’d be up at 9:15 for class or actually engage on Zoom she asked for a desktop computer because she’d need to get out of bed to use it. I applauded her self awareness and will continue to meet her where she’s at. Being a teenager is crazy enough without a pandemic.

    Do you do things together? I suggest you join his world. Play basketball with him. Or video games. Find a way to compliment him. Then ask him to work with him for an hour once a day. Cook a meal together. Or change the oil in the car. Maybe plant some vegetables. Work on the budget. Would money motivate him? Would he like to walk a dog or mow a lawn for money? Does he have any friends? Is there one person you would allow him to see during this pandemic? Do you have an outlet so that you can vent your frustration without involving him? You need to be calm and supportive and loving around him in order to rebuild your relationship. 

    I don't have direct experience with this as a parent, but I do as being like the teenager in question (yikes 20 years ago), and our son (turning 7) faced some of this when SIP started.

    Your son is depressed. Of course he's depressed. Most everyone is now. Whatever motivation he had for keeping up with the frankly bizarre ritual of early mornings (which study after study shows is against teenage sleep wake cycles), is now gone. Everything is different. Some people have been able to thrive under these incredibly hostile circumstances, but most have not. The choices that we are reckoning with as workers, parents, students, citizens, are both once-in-100-years, and forced upon us by an uncaring, unsupportive government. With the amount of money our country has, literally everyone could take a fully paid vacation to stay at home for two weeks and we could get over this. Will we? No.

    I digress.

    Your son, despite a pandemic(!!), is still alive. He's not in public without a mask (I assume), he's not stealing anything or hurting anyone (I assume). He, like all of us, is coping the best he can. If all he does, all we as a whole do, is survive and not catch and transmit covid, he should be praised. Anything beyond that is supremely impressive, but shouldn't be expected.

    Your expectations here are ... a lot. Even in normal circumstances. But particularly now with everything going on, who cares that he sleeps in and plays on his phone? I'm super impressed he's still practicing self-care and basketball. That's incredible. I bet sleep feels really great. I haven't gotten a good night of sleep in 5 months!!! (Because, well, my God there's a pandemic still happening)

    If this is really truly affecting you and your relationship with him and it seems just impossible, I recommend speaking to a therapist. I'm a very happy therapy goer for many years, and I promise they are there to help, and do! (Most people should go, but again I digress) They can at the very least help *you* to relax and get through a very challenging time, and also to help reflect on and repair your relationship--which is so critical during this time.

    Please take care of each other!

    I totally understand your frustration - I saw a somewhat similar pattern with my 14 y.o. over the summer too.  Here's my take though:  a nocturnal lifestyle may seem terrible to you but maybe it's not so bad for your son at this time in his life.  It sounds like he's meeting his obligations, exercising, maintaining good hygiene and even has somewhat of a daily schedule/routine.  All of this is really positive!  The fact that his activity takes place at odd hours in itself doesn't seem like something to battle over.  I agree with your limits on screen time and fully understand your wish that he were "doing more" with his time.  But it's summer vacation, the world is really weird now, and the fact is that most in-person daytime activities aren't happening anyway.  When I was a young teen, before I could work, I spent most of my summer reading.  My parents left me alone b/c reading was incontrovertibly worthwhile in their eyes but it wasn't exactly productive and definitely not active. I also used to stay up really late reading (still do!)--  and while reading is obviously different than screen time, I do see some parallels. Lastly I've heard that many teens have turned nocturnal during SIP as a way to carve out time/space from parents and siblings while everyone is stuck at home. Maybe he just needs some space!

    So if I were in your shoes, I'd ease up on criticizing his night owl ways, stick to your screen-time limits, focus on the positive as much as possible.  Once school starts, he will need to return to more diurnal habits to keep up with online learning etc. And hopefully soon there will be real activities again that actually seem interesting/exciting to him and will help motivate him to keep more typical hours.  Your post is really humorous so just try to hang on to your sense of humor when you're engaging with your son.  I think everything will be ok, eventually!

    I know you asked for ways to influence your son's behavior, but I think you might first rethink your reaction to it. Frankly, I don't see his behavior as all that extreme. Consider the following:

    -At adolescence, human circadian rhythms shift. Melatonin is released later at night than for adults and children, and teens' daily bio-clocks reset to a much later schedule. Our culture tends to ignore this because this schedule doesn't work with most adult schedules, but we should. School districts that have shifted their start times are finding that adolescent students whose school days start later are more alert, more engaged, and learn better. And even those whose circadian rhythms don't switch back are not condemned to less rich lives. Night owls find one another, find good jobs, find contentment, are productive. A life that plays to one's strengths makes fulfillment more attainable - even if one of those strengths is being at your best at night.

    -Most teens need 8-10 hours sleep per night; some more, few less. But society requires they get up earlier, so very few get anywhere near this amount. American teens are perpetually sleep-deprived. When they can sleep later, they do, attempting to 'repay' their sleep deficits. Pre-Covid, this meant weekends, sometimes vacation. Covid-caused schedule changes, allow teens to more closely adhere to what their bodies are telling them to do: stay up later, sleep in. (Even adults are schedule-shifting now that they're working from home, happily trading commute time for sleep.) And even well-rested teens are often lethargic. It passes.

    -If we as adults are having trouble with how to maintain social connections in the New Normal, consider how much time teens typically spend with their friends. While they are advantaged by their greater comfort with interaction via screen, we all know it isn't the same as hanging out together. Humans are social animals. And if everyone is hanging out on-line until 2am, that is where your son wants to be - and, for his socio-mental development, rightfully so. 

    -Like many adults, teens are wrestling with Covid-related anxiety and depression. Your son may be experiencing this. (If so, the answer most likely isn't getting up earlier and being "productive.") Mental health problems have spiked since March - none of us have a playbook for this. Teens have less idea of their futures than ever. Those who assumed they were going to college are wondering if there will be any actual going to college, or will the rest of their education be remote? Will they have a H.S. graduation? A prom? How do you find a sweetie when you can't interact with anyone up close? Figuring out who one is going to be as an adult has never been easy, but now???

    -I was especially struck by your statement that he is "doing all the things he should be doing during the day" at night. Why is it important that he shower, or exercise, or anything else at the times that feel right to you? This isn't harming you. You wouldn't choose it, but so what if he does? Does the water not get him as clean at midnight? Why are you risking your relationship with your son over the small stuff? He feels judged, you're exhausted. Listen to him. He isn't wasting his youth, nor is he destroying his future. Relax.

    Hi there.  My 16 year old son is very similar - especially the sleep/awake schedule.  He is also very strong-willed and we can't enforce much on him.  After school re-started, he has to get up earlier; but twice he missed class because he couldn't get up on time. He might be a bit more careful in the future about that.  But it seems manby of his freinds are also awake until late at night. ON top of that he is very exercise-averse - so his exercise habits are irregular and sparse. I feel like he (my son) has issues controlling emotions and organizing (executive skills) - and I am considering getting a coach - but I need to find a good coach first!!  I sometimes feel we could ahve perhaps disciplined him differently?? - but again, these are very different times, and I am bit clueless and giving up, and hoping for the best.  We both are wokring full time form home and remain very busy - we need to pick our battles.

  • Support With Hard Teen Girl

    (4 replies)

    Hi parents, 

    I have been parenting my niece since she was 13, and she is now 16. We are having a very hard time managing her behavior. She tends to be completely silent/reclusive/secretive- and her phone is literally part of her body. We do have some times of day she is not supposed to use the phone, and she mostly adheres to them, though she isn't super jazzed about not having it. At times we will do wonderful things with her (take her somewhere she wanted to go, get her a special trip, etc., and she will be OK for part of it, but then become completely unhappy during part of it, which is really hard to take for us!). She is really good at some subjects in school and really bad at others, and doesn't care much about the places where she gets poor grades.

    We have gotten some support but are now looking for something professional to help us parent her better.  We've all been in and out of therapy but are really looking now for concrete support about what to do, and how to parent her. She has a great therapist that is working directly with her, so we're really looking for something for us.

    Looking for recommendations for parent coaches, classes on parenting teens, and other support that is specific to the teenage years. For reference, we also have younger children (under 6) but this is very different than what we deal with with the little ones. 

    Ideas? Thoughts? Recs? 

    You are clearly a good person to be raising your niece, and loving to stick with her through difficult behavior. I admire you for reaching out for further support.

    I wish I would have learned about The Parent Project ( when my teen was younger. I've recently heard from people who have had a good experience with it. You might look into it.

    I have a difficult now 19-y-o. My spouse and I tried many approaches to addressing his challenging behavior which began around age 9. Our efforts were mostly focused on individual and (limited) family therapy, educational assessments and 504 Plans, as well a brief medication trial to treat ADHD. My spouse would not engage meaningfully in the family therapy, nor participate in parenting support groups/classes/programs, nor work with me to establish and enforce boundaries for appropriate behavior in our home. I won't go into details here other than to say this: our situation remains challenging as we have split our family into two households so that I can raise my second (younger) child in a safe and healthy environment.

    My heart goes out to you, you are not alone in raising a difficult teen. Do something to care for yourself every day and continue to look for support wherever you can find it.

    The following approach has been a lifesaver for us in our own parenting journey: Parenting with IFS (Internal Family Systems) by Frank Anderson.

    Amazing tool for disentanglement from ineffective patterns of reactivity. Worth 100 trips to the therapist!


    This sounds really hard and I’m so glad you are looking for help! I strongly STRONGLY recommend Sheri Glucoft-Wong in Berkeley. We were foundering with our blended family/new sibling/step-dad-complicates family, especially with how to handle my extremely challenging teen through all of the transitions and Sheri helped me and my husband identify our limitations/challenges and learn some concrete skills (including ways to be on the same team as our teen, to have more compassion). 
    Even just a one session consult with her would be helpful. 

    Hello, Feeling for you all. We've worked with Quetzal and Emily of Love Your Nature for a while now and we love them. They lead year-long teen girls groups, and other special events. The Summer Teen Retreat this Summer might be of interest to your daughter, my daughter loved it. My daughter comes away from the monthly meetings feeling a deep sense of connection.  They also have a good resources page, and are just very well connected in the teen/parenting teens world. www.loveyournature.comBest of luck!"

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Feeling resentful about teen's academic & social failures

May 2013

Are there any support groups, and, if not, any therapists interested in starting one, for families of underachieving, acting out teens? My daughter just can't get her act together academically and socially despite my trying a myriad of approaches for years. Starting in elementary school and now while in high school: social skills groups, classes/lessons to support her musical talents, tutoring/mentoring, meeting and communicating regularly with her teachers in school, finally starting medication for ADHD a few months ago, offering therapy, etc.

I am on an emotional roller coaster-feeling good when it looks like she's turned the corner and is managing things better, then feeling quite down when she lets her grade slip from an A to a D and she says she has to time to bring it back up. (BTW, there is no pressure to get As, Bs and Cs are great.) It's at the point where I feel like I am making most of the effort and very little is coming from her. At times I feel like I'm being had and feel incredibly let down and resentful. It's hard to feel loving and be generous when there is so little effort on her part. She feels my disappointment is not justified, minimizes where she has fallen short of her responsibilities, and often has a rather skewed perception of reality.

I know there are support groups for families with kids in programs, but what about families on the cusp? Not severe enough issues for a residential program, yet unrelenting academic and social issues. Anything? Another reason a support group appeals is because it's hard hearing about my friend's kids' successes as well as seeing other difficult kids get their act together, while my child continues to struggle.

Responses that include recommendations, shared experiences, what you've found helpful, etc., will all be appreciated. Thanks. Nearly tapped out mom

I agree, there is little to nothing out there for parents and teens ''on the cusp.'' It is a tough place and we have navigated it for 19 years. I too wish there was something. But i can offer this: Our college son has ADHD and a touch of dyslexia ( mitigated quite a bit with tons of work in elem. school) and while it is never smooth sailing, it is getting better. There were many times that we were tapped out, end of rope, etc. He pulled some doozies. But know you are not alone by a long shot. Stay the course. You are in fact almost at the good part. & I can share that my guy is now a soph. in college and is doing OK. He is so proud to be at CU Boulder, a big state university, his top choice. He does get some accomodations, like extra time, non-distracting testing environment. ( We applied for these ourselves, a bit of work but no too bad, schools seem pretty used to this). So far has to drop at least one class each semester for various reasons. He has to put a lot of time in to get a B average, but is starting to see the benefits. Freshman year was touch and go grade wise and otherwise.Textbook last minute, play now work later ADHD. It continues to be infuriating, in a lot of areas, but we are now at age 19 1/2 seeing growth. He has had a few nice solid relationships and has had a job after school in HS & every Summer for 4 years and even works a little at college. We also see other kids he knows dropping out, coming home, etc. So we feel lucky and a bit wary. It was not any one thing that he, or we did. But I guess we just kept at it. We are hard core against all substance abuse & continue to be a pain in the butt, much to his dismay. We supported his areas of strength like skiing and art( he is a design major). He is growing up, taking pride in his accomplishments. I'll bet your daughter will too. Hang in there. Vicki

Kaiser Richmond has a social skills group called the Young Teen Group. It is an eight week program. It ended a few weeks ago but will begin again when more people sign up. Some topics include: making friends, dealing with bullying and communication. Sherri

Teens are unhappy, critical of my parenting

March 2013

My family is divided. They don't seem happy and I don't know if they ever will be. I have two kids, 17 & 20. They are not speaking to each other. They are both critical of each other & both equally critical of my parenting. It's a stretch of time almost devoid of joy. They have two loving, doting, hardworking parents, albeit seperated. They have been educated, fed, clothed, entertained, protected, understood and adored their entire lives. Though no kid remembers their childhood, I do remember always being an advocate and solid support through all the many stages of their development; sports teams, field trips, summer camp, parent volunteer, vacations to beautiful places - you name it. Now there is no way to recognize the enormous amount of effort we put in to their security and happiness. I want to mend my family. Does it get easier/better naturally? We would consider family counseling, and have been each to see our own therapists in the past, but presently our insurance is limited, as is our income. We have great doctors, supportive friends & family. Parenting babies, toddlers, kids and preteens was a breeze compared to parenting these age children. A happy future is hard to see. Wants to be Happy!

Happiness, is an important emotional state, but generally even if people are happy with their lives, they usually are not happy all the time.

My advice is it sounds like your family has ''squabbling, communication'' issues, not so much ''divided''. You have to be together at some level just to argue or criticize.

I am not minimizing how unpleasant this is as a way of life, or your needs, as we grow older I seem to think finding balance, internal and external is even more pressing.

Fact : not all siblings are buddies. Some siblings really never get along.

My suggestion: Accept your children for who they are right now. Look to yourself, and find your own happiness, model happiness in your behavior, speech, and life at all times. Have no expectations whether they will express any appreciation for your efforts, since it is possible they will get worse before they get better.

Look at your budget and see if you can cut something out you do not need: vacations, movies, new clothes, coffee out, food out. Unless you are already at ''bare bones'' the money may be there to pay for counseling for the kids, just the sacrifices may require you to give up some of the things that give you relief from their attitudes and bickering.

Some kids fight as children and become closer as adults. Some siblings never ever talk to each other when given the option. If they are doing things that are physically threatening to each other or you then you are obligated to seek professional interventions until they leave your residence and reach legal age.

Raising kids is a really hard job. Hats off to you for asking for support. Keep looking. The Bay Area has many options. The hardest thing will be figuring out what you can do, what your limits are, and what they need to do on their own.

Conflict resolution courses, self help strategies may be a good way to start. You do not have to be perfect at it, just make progress. Good luck another mom

I wish I had an answer for you but in fact I am in a very similar boat although I am divorced and a single parent. I hope someone has some answers!! You are not alone. where did I go wrong?

To the parent with the 17 and 20 year olds missing happiness-- I know exactly where you've been and it is horrible, sad and hard. What your children are doing right now isn't your fault. When my son started acting out after his father and I split up (my son had a childhood similar to the one you describe for your children), I wanted to take responsibility for what he said and did rather than expecting him to take responsibility for his actions that were hurtful, bad for our family and bad for him. If I could go back in time and speak to my broken-hearted self who missed that loving sweet boy that I had known and nurtured his whole life, I would say- you get to set some boundaries around behavior even when they're all grown up. You get to say the way your sons are acting toward each other or you is not okay- You expect more from them than that. I think the hope for happiness comes after you insist on respect. In our case, my son is now 23, I finally took my own advice, and we are happier now. Been there, done that in Berkeley

Dealing with the stress of living with a teenager

July 2007

My daughter is chronologically a pre-teen (almost 12), but biologically and hormonally pubescent. I'm a single mom by choice so there's no other parent on alternate weekends, let alone at home. I am already finding dealing with the mood swings and absent-mindedness extremely stressful, and I know I am not handling it well. Nearly everything I have to say to my daughter is a correction or criticism and I'm on the verge of tears frequently. That's obviously not good for her or for our relationship. On the other hand, if I had a roommate like my daughter, I'd move. Can anyone recommend particularly helpful books to help me get through the next 6-plus years? Better still, are there any support groups? L.

Oh I feel your pain!! My daughter is 16!! I'm single also, but get breaks. Breaks are good. Better than books even! I can't recommend a book or a group, but I get through it in several ways: I talk with friends who have the same age children and commisserate (it helps), I go to therapy for myself periodically, we have gone to therapy together too (art therapy was great!!), and I try and take lots of deep breaths without hyperventilating! She will be like this for a while. Patience is a big factor as is being semi-detached about certain things for getting along with your teenager. Reminding yourself of this all the time is good too! When you talk with her, sometimes you have to be an ear only. She will talk to you more about what's going on with her as the years roll on if she knows that you are not going to judge her or criticize her after she's said her piece. You are balancing on a tightrope now

You have to be her friend, her mother, her jailer, and her escape partner! What I mean by that is sometimes you will need to rein her in to make sure she's safe and healthy, and other times you will have to be the one she can escape her crazy teen-age life with by going on a fun adventure together. You will have to be there when she's a mess and crying and doesn't know what to do because she's had a fight with a friend, and you will have to figure out the right thing to say to help her keep going. You also have a take a lot of gruff!! (That's the not-nice part. That's when detachment can come in handy.) I swear this period has been the HARDEST part of raising a child, for me at least!

But I try to keep an open mind, and change when the situation calls for it. I apologize when I've not done something the best way I could've and next time do it again differently. I look at this as a growth period for myself too. I don't think of myself as ''finished'', life has much more to offer and for me to learn from, even my daughter! Try to eat well, and get excercise. Don't let the stress build up. Teenagers are very sensitive and can feel all of our stuff too.

Make some basic rules for the house, start slow and repeat yourself like a broken record for the next 6 years! Sometimes I have to laugh at the whole thing too!! My daughter had it hard from 12-15 and now she seems to be have a better sense of herself. We get along great for the most part. I totally admire her. She's smart, sensitive, beautiful, and funny. She's also a slob, she walks as fast as a snail, is late, and talks back to me sometimes. But hey, we're not perfect, ever! living breathing mom of a living breathing 16-y.o. daughter!

Good for you for reaching out for support. I think it is the key to making it through. My daughter went into the teenage dark side at 12, emerged again when she was 14, and now, at 16, is a pleasure. If you had talked to me when she was 13, and told me that I would say that 3 years later, I would have laughed bitterly and never believed you. Now my son, at 14, is starting to descend, and I'm bracing myself. But have faith, they do come back. It was actually your roomate analogy that prompted me to respond. I used to say that all the time. I think one thing that helped me immmensely was having close friends to whom I could really vent. No need to hedge with ''of course I love her, but...'' They knew I loved her, and were fine with me letting out the rage I frequently felt and calling her a bitch (which is exactly how she was behaving...) When the kids were toddlers, we could all bond in the park over tantrums and picky eating. But with teens, parents seem to be not so close anymore, or afraid to really talk about what is happening in their families. So build your own support group if you can't find one.

Another thing that helped was learning to bite my tongue, intensely. It got so that we would have car drives with no words spoken fairly often. It was better than some innoccuous comment from me setting her off in some mean or negative direction. Music is good -- you are listening to it together. Actually, cultivate any activities you can do together that do not require talking. When she is ready to talk, of course you drop everything to listen and talk back. But sometimes, silence is golden.

There's a book by Micheal Reira we found very helpful, Uncommon Sense for Parents of Teenagers. The info is good, and the tone is very grounding.

Good luck. These are heavy lifting years for parents, but you and she will get through them together. anon, of course

I want to appreciate the wonderful responses so far. I remember that when I was 17 my parents were the most irritating people in the world, and it took me 20 years to get past that. This past year we've struggled with Events

Involving Really Bad Teen Judgment by my son (a junior), and our ineffective attempts at consequences and reasonable restrictions like curfews. My husband was upset to think that we were bad parents/citizens, but reassured after he checked in and found that almost all parents he knew have had even more grief and conflict, from teens we'd least suspect of it.

Our family therapist acknowledged our outrage that our son was an obnoxious slobby roommate with misplaced feelings of entitlement, making stupid mistakes (like not studying or getting enough sleep or handling his money well), and not a dutiful child mirroring our values. He also pointed out that our son's mistakes hadn't involved the police or personal injury or pregnancy or substance abuse, and that our son's grades (while slipping) and his health and potential were still excellent.

We took a deep breath and shipped him off to be away from us for 8 weeks, to live at a dorm and take summer college classes. It has been a wonderful thing for our son to be on his own, and clearly the right thing for all of us. He loves his big new world. He can be polite and cheerful in his infrequent contacts with us; we can be more accepting of his autonomy and confident of his safety. We're hoping that this will help us all survive his senior year together. another parent holding on

Boy, can I relate! I have a 12-year-old teenage too, and she's made life so stressful I sometimes feel like crying, too. You can find online support groups for parenting teens.

I love to read and have found these books that are helping me get through this phase (oh, gosh, 6 years?!) These should be available at the public library.
Get Out of My Life, But First Would You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? When We're in Public, Could You Pretend You Don't Know Me? Ophelia's Mom: Loving and Letting Go Girl in the Mirror Why Do They Act That Way? (great book on the way teenage brain development leads to behaviors) Don't Give Me That Attitude! 24 Rude, Selfish, Insensitive Things Kids Do and How to Stop Them
I admire you for asking for support. Hang on. We'll all help each other get through this. Nancy

Reflections on my daughter's 18th birthday

Jan 2006

My daughter turns 18 this month and this has occasioned some reflection on my part about the task of being the parent of a teenager. She is my first- born; I still have a 15-year old son to fret over, so my work is not yet complete. But 18 is something special, not just another birthday.

As I have thought about the past five years (or more? she was certainly a teenager well before she was 13), the metaphor that sticks in my mind is that being the parent of a teenager is like delivering them all over again: the awe, wonder, joy, sense of accomplishment, and deep, overwhelming, all- consuming adoration of this new human being are all as fresh as they were 18 years ago. But there is also a lot of pain and a certain amount of blood on the floor.

As I\xc2\x92ve read through the \xc2\x93Parents of Teens\xc2\x94 entries over the years, there have been times when I\xc2\x92ve been smug and arrogant\xc2\x97what\xc2\x92s wrong with these people? We don\xc2\x92t have problems like that, why don\xc2\x92t they just do it the way we did? And there have been other times when I have felt guilty, hidden, and alone: surely no other child has been as you-name-the adjective (deceitful, lazy, thoughtless, messy, mean, etc.), and no other parent has been as helpless, as ineffectual, as bewildered, heartbroken, or betrayed by the actions of the child who came out of her own body.

To all of you who have shared this journey with us and especially to those who are still delivering: the fact is that most of these children survive being teenagers and most of us parents do too. The path is never what we expected or imagined, and many of our children will not be quite the people that we thought we wanted them to be. But they are also far more than we ever dared to hope and dream in so many ways. Mostly, they are a gift and they are a labor.

To my daughter (and you know who you are), I would like to say that you have always been and will always be the light of my life. I carried you in my heart long before I found the right partner to allow to be your father and I will carry you in my heart long after it stops beating, and yours stops beating, and your father\xc2\x92s and brother\xc2\x92s and children\xc2\x92s stop beating. You are a magnificent person\xc2\x97full of flaws, full of feeling, still becoming, but also, already, magnificent. Fly free, my child, fly free and high and be only as afraid as you need to be in order to be safe.

But first, turn off the TV, do your homework, finish your college apps, and clean your room.

Happy Birth Day and much love, from your mother. anonymous