I remember when my eldest was in preschool and the delight we both took in being reunited at the end of each day. At the time I shared my bliss with a graduate student. This student, who had two teenagers, responded with “yeah, but wait ‘till she’s a teen.” I remember feeling nonplussed by that remark. While the available science and my clinical experience were both consistent with my grad student’s remark, I thought this would not happen to me…not only has it happened multiple times, but it has happened with both of my teenagers. And, my third child will hit adolescence in a few months, leaving me looking at want adds for oil rig work in the North Atlantic.
So, my fellow parent-lunatic, here are the things I try to do, at least when I’m acting with intention, when one of my teen says some version of “I hate you!”
Tip #1: Reflect on the resilience formula: crisis = pain + opportunity. You’re feeling the pain. Now, where is the opportunity? (My own experience is that the dosing of opportunity is usually higher than the dosing of the pain.)
Tip #2: Take a deep breath and keep things in perspective. This is a normative experience. (Those of you who have raised a teenager, and have not experienced this, should probably keep that to yourself, lest the rest of us kick you off the island!) Your teen’s brain is still developing, especially in regards to those parts that will end up defining his or her most mature self. Moreover, sometimes you hear this because you’re doing right by your teen (e.g., doing effective monitoring) and s/he will be grateful later (probably not until after your dead though).
Tip #3: Realize that yours and your teen’s experience of the conflict may be different. Research suggests that these sorts of conflicts bother we parent-lunatics more than they bother our kids. Ever have your teen go off on you and then act like zero happened a few hours later, or the next day? Our teens often look upon these conflicts as being less significant than we do.
Tip #5: Use other wise parents as a sounding board. The three criteria I use for my sounding boards are: (a) the person is experienced and knowledgeable about the problem or issues at hand, (b) the person is willing to disagree with me and (c) the person feels kindly towards me. This discussion can help you to find your perspective and feel more confident about moving forward with your teen. Of course, if you can partner with your spouse all the better (my wife is my go-to gut check person in these instances).
Tip #6: Be selective about your psychological autopsies (i.e., following up later on what was said). A simple “I hate you!” Or, “you suck as a parent!” followed by the classic storm off and door slam, may not be worth following up on. Sometimes the gift we give our teen is allowing him or her to blow off steam without it ending up being a thing.
Tip #7: Wait until everyone’s brain is back online before doing a psychological autopsy. Sometimes your teen might say some things in the middle of one of these rants that is very hurtful or which gives you information you believe you need to follow up on. In these instances wait until you’re both calm and rested in order to proceed. This allows for everyone to have all IQ points on deck for what could be a difficult discussion.
Tip #8: When doing a psychological autopsy get your teen’s perspective first, and offer empathy (which can be done even when you disagree); stay there until your teen is vetted, unless you find yourself getting too upset (in which case you may want to stop and come back later). This can be gruelingly difficult to do, but not only will you be modeling an effective communication style, but you will be helping your teen to be more open to your perspective when it’s your turn to share.
Tip #9: Make sure this isn’t part of a larger problem. Is your teen making similar statements to teachers? Is your teen struggling in his/her social life? Are academics not going well? Does your teen routinely struggle when s/he is asked to do things s/he doesn’t feel like doing? Is your teen’s mood often disturbed? Does your teen struggle in his/her extracurricular life? Are any of your teen’s regulatory habits disturbed (e.g., sleep)? If the answer to one or more of these questions is “yes,” then the “I hate you” remarks may be a cry for help.
Tip #10 (readers of this blog can see this one coming a mile away): Err on the side of getting help sooner rather than later. Psychological problems are akin to medical problems in so many ways: they are nearly universal by the time a kid reaches adulthood (about 90%), most of the time they are treatable in a short period of time, they are easier to treat the earlier they are caught and, if they are left unchecked, can cause very stressful and costly consequences. However, unlike medical problems, only about 20% of youth who need evidence-based mental health care get it. Want to be among those parents who don’t make this error of omission? Just click here to get the ball rolling.
So, go forth in peace my fellow parent-lunatic. And, if you can remember exactly why we all signed up for this, would you email me? I’ve forgotten 😉