In my private practice I have the privilege of meeting with teenagers. Although I do not work with toddlers in my practice I have one in my home. Because of this I have been reminded once again of the amazing similarities between the two. Seriously, think about it! Both are focused primarily on what they want and are willing to go to great lengths to get it including manipulation and lying. Both are prone to emotional meltdowns and will at times show a complete inability to control themselves. Toddlers are self-absorbed and teenagers are self-involved. Both are maneuvering significant developmental milestones that are of vast importance to their emotional health and well being. Both require multiple requests from a parent to accomplish a task that isn't on their agenda. Both make statements of dislike toward their parents, their chores and the massive unfairness that seems to exist in the world.
Because of these similarities I frequently encourage parents to respond to their teenagers as they did their toddlers. It often makes for more effective parenting and decreases the emotion in the home considerably. For instance when my 4 year old says, "you're mean and I don't like you", I don't take it personally because I know she is merely focused on not getting her way. I remind her that she has the right to her opinion about me and that my primary concern is not that she likes me. And then I enforce the expectation, rule or boundary that she didn't like to begin with. I am the adult. I don't participate in the emotion. For some reason when those words are spoken by our teenagers we allow them to matter and hurt our feelings even though they are likely also focused on getting their way. We are better at seeing these "teachable moments" when our kids are little. We are more likely to stay out of the emotion and utilize those times to teach our kids more appropriate ways to respond to their anger, frustration and disappointment. But when they are teenagers I have seen parents respond in anger, hurt, blame, frustration and actually escalate the situation considerably by joining in the emotion. We jump on the emotional roller coaster with them strap on our seatbelts and prove we can ride the crazy train too! Perhaps it would be more effective to say, "I'll be right here on level ground ready to talk with you when you are finished." We are the adults. We don't participate in the emotion.
I also encourage parents to consider monitoring their teenagers much like they monitored their toddler. Now before you totally tune that out as a ridiculous call to helicopter parenting, hear me out. Consider the attention you paid to what your toddler was exposed to. The movies, the games, the people, etc… They were sensitive, impressionable and precious and we wanted to preserve that! I believe we should trust our teenagers to make good choices but I also believe we should verify that they are making good choices by monitoring their activities, media and social relationships. Afterall they are sensitive, impressionable and precious and we want to preserve that! Think about how long you allowed your toddler to be in his/her room by themselves before you wondered what they were up to. 20 minutes? 30 minutes? Silence in the toddler years often meant trouble so we checked on them frequently. Yet there are teenagers all over this country who spend hours and hours, days and days in their rooms doing and experiencing unthinkable things because nobody is monitoring their silence. If we dared to do this when they were toddlers it would be called "neglect". Is it any less neglectful when they are still learning, moving through milestones, impressionable and in need of love, encouragement and supervision?
Parents it is our right, our responsibility, and our privilege to parent, teach, encourage and love our children through EVERY stage of development. We don't get to quit because they don't like us or because they want us to quit. We are the adults. We don't get to quit when they don't please us or make us feel like we are doing a good job. We don't quit when they hurt our feelings or our pride. We are the adults. We don't get to quit just because their bodies are bigger and they think they know what is best for them. Please don't quit!!! You are the adult. Your toddler and your teenager will eventually, although not soon, thank you for it!