Scarleteen, that national treasure, has a guide for adults who want to help young people learn to handle romantic rejection with more grace (and less violence). Their “big five” principles for adults when talking to teens about their romantic and sexual lives and identities are also awesome reading.
Speaking of national treasures, here’s a perfect breakup anthem by The Womack Sisters (daughters of Cecil & Linda aka Womack & Womack, nieces of Bobby, and grandkids of Sam Cooke):
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Argh, I forgot to write the thing that prompted me to post a donation pitch in the first place: for their organization, recurring contributions, even small amounts, are more helpful for their budgeting for staff and service provision than larger lump sums donated less frequently, so if you wish to donate, the recurring model works best for them.
I’m using your column and archives as a ‘how to relationship 101′ class for teens. We refer to it as “defense against the dark arts’.
I was thinking about collecting a directory of some of the CA columns most relevant to young ages (to preteens, to teens and young adults). Has anyone given it a shot?
Maybe you’ve got some wisdom to share on a phenomenon that is bewildering the daylights out of me: Why does a switch flip in so many parents/adults where all of a sudden a child who needed to be protected is now a devil teen who is maliciously creating all problems they have out of sheer brattiness/badness?
The weirdest example I saw lately was on a message board where a woman wrote in filled with rage and hurt by the personal “betrayal” she felt because her 12-year-old niece had used drugs. Now this woman is less crazy than most who go to that mental space, because the moment I challenged her and told her that her niece betrayed no one, that she was the target of a long string of predators and the adults around her failed to protect her, this woman changed her stance immediately and said that of course that was right and she would get her head straight ASAP.
But how the hell does anyone even go there?
I can remember all too well when the switch flipped in my mother and I suddenly went from “an unwanted burden but nevertheless a child deserving protection” to, “enemy that must be constantly guarded against because DEVILTEEN.” All that accomplished, naturally, was convincing me that she was crazy and the enemy of all that was sane and decent.
There’s a lot I can see with new insight by looking back to what I witnessed as a kid, but I’ve still got nothing on that one. By most standards of what people commonly wish their teen daughters to be, I was a prize. I’ve got no explanation I can come up with for her attitude.
So another case I saw online recently: A woman was freaking out because her teen daughter (15-16) had stolen something tiny and of small value from a drugstore. Obviously that has to be dealt with properly, but this woman took it to the crazy place. She put her daughter on a level of punitive surveillance that I told her was a violation of all norms of human rights and a form of torture, it was so extreme. The woman didn’t care. What she cared about was making her devil-teen pay because she’d been in a good mood for once and the kid had harshed her mellow, or something.
So I asked a friend of mine whose adult children are of fairy-tale perfection in terms of behavior — seriously, they all turned out like that, and she took in and turned around a nephew who was on a bad path too. I was wondering how the hell she manages that, and I found out: I told her about the story online of the small stolen item and the mother’s reaction. She was horrified. I thought she’d be horrified by the theft, but nope, she was horrified by the mother. “That’s not what you do!” she said over and over, “You talk to them! Just talk to them!”
Given the values everyone in her family shows, I thought she’d have a heart attack over the theft, but nope, she just laughed. She said that kind of momentary stupidity is a product of that age, and it’s just something that happens. That’s why you talk to your kids all the time, she said. So when something like that happens and they do something stupid because momentary stupidity afflicts all adults, so it’s certainly going to afflict kids in ways that fit their ages, you can help them process what happened and help them set themselves back on the right path.
That right there appears to be a piece of it, of the crazypants switch-flip to “my teen is now the enemy” — adults who go there seem to reserve to themselves the right to be imperfect, to have moments of being worn out or stupid or otherwise being human, but they see their teen as “old enough to know better” and thus allowed no mistakes. So then all mistakes, even those that are well established as developmentally normal for the age, are treated as malice on the part of the teen.
And I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why adults go there.
I think the short answer is that unfortunately there is a lot of parenting advice/framing of parenting that sees teens and kids as a) their parents’ property and b) a reflection on the parents (vs. being separate people), and if you combine that with really authoritarian thinking (like in certain fundamentalist religious groups) and/or a controlling personality you get extreme abusive badness.
Plus, in that style of parenting, “obedience” usually is the equal and opposite force to “critical thinking and autonomy.” So, telling your teenager to think about it and make better choices isn’t an option. Because your word might cease to be law or something. It’s not my logic, so…
I strongly agree with your points. To this day, my mother interprets everything I do and every preference I have as something I am more-or-less maliciously doing *at* her. Even though I don’t really have the imagination or spare emotional energy for that kind of planned, sustained petty evil, and even if I did I spend too much time reading sensible advice columns to actually carry anything like that out (Doesn’t stop me from feeling like a monster a lot, but that’s what therapy is for and that’s not the focus of this comment). Turns out that she’s kind of lousy at understanding that other people are people, and that someone having a different like doesn’t mean they are inherently condemning her like. And when I got old enough to be my own person and assert my own interests, HOLY COW, it was a cataclysm. If I didn’t obey, then the bedrock of her world would shatter, and that couldn’t happen- so her word had to remain law, and I had to be stopped from preferring design to sports or fantasy novels to her books.
That’s a really sad way to live, I’m coming to see, as my friends have and raise kids. While it can be disappointing not to be able to bond with your child in a way that is meaningful to you, it is also beautiful to see the person they make of themselves, and experience new things they bring into your orbit. Authoritarian people seem to struggle with this, though, and it makes for really difficult teen years for their kids, and for the authoritarian parents themselves.
I think that there may also be an aspect of fitting their kid into “Teen” slot as defined by media, instead of seeing them as the actual person they are.
I distinctly remember the hurt I felt when my mom was suddenly convinced that I was doing drugs and had a secret boyfriend (neither were true) and -refused to listen- to me, preferring the narrative that all teens do this and of course teens lie.
This can obviously combine with misogyny in predictable ways when the teen is a girl, as I was and as your examples seem to be.
Yeah, I experienced some of this from my dad. I was suddenly Delinquent and Teen Parent Waiting to Happen. And I also had a pretty nasty spell of what was probably depression for much of my 14th year, which he took as ingratitude for his provider-ness or something, which didn’t help. It was only a few years ago I finally looked back and thought “…wait, I was a good kid! I never got in ANY trouble. The worst thing I did was write BAD POETRY.”
My brother and I didn’t get that- my parents were like “you guys are the good kids and your delinquent friends are leading you astray!!!1!!”
As if we had no minds of our own, just went along with whatever anyone else told or expected us to do, without a moments thought. I found this incredibly insulting. I had been a deep, self aware, and introspective kid from my earliest days; I’d survived years of torment & ostracization in grade school and come out the other side with an incredible inner strength & rock solid sense of self; I had no need or desire to fit in or bow to peer pressure, and the people I counted as friends were not a clique or homogeneous group but a lot of unique, intelligent, and talented individuals, of all types, whose commonality was having always been a ‘misfit’ to the people around us in some way. I wasn’t going along with the crowd or being talked into things, I had agency, and to not have this recognized, to have it assumed that I was (we were) weak minded lemmings…I think I would have *preferred* being considered the “devil teen/young adult” because at least it would have recognized the role *I* played and that I actively made the decisions to do things they did not like or want me to do.
Not to negate or downplay how hurtful and confusing that must have been for you, just saying the other side of the fence isn’t always as green as it might look from over there. 😄
Two main things: fear of change, and fear of the loss of control. When small children become teenagers, it gets harder and harder to ignore the fact that they’re going to be adults, and they’re going to do scary and possibly dangerous things, and they’re going to get hurt to some extent or another by the big bad world and it’ll take more than a Spongebob bandaid to fix it. And most of all, one day they’re going to go away and not need you (as much). It can feel easy to blame the teenager for this because it feels like you turned around, and your adorable little moppet had been stolen away and replaced by this other creature who’s taller than you and likes terrible music.
You are absolutely sure you never acted like that as a teenager, because *you* have always been perfectly reasonable. Or maybe you remember all the mistakes you made at that age and are absolutely determined that your child isn’t going to repeat them, but they won’t *listen*. (Or, sadly too possibly, you’re a control freak who is upset that your kid is now starting to push back in however small a way and is maybe a bit less afraid of you than when they were much smaller.)
I think a couple different reasons which vary depending on the parent.
– Parent remembers what they were like as a teenager and is projecting hard
– Parent had idealized image in their head of who their kid was going to be and can’t handle that image being compromised
– Parent is incredibly authoritarian and cannot tolerate challenges to their authority
– Parent is for whatever reason incapable of viewing the child as an autonomous individual with their own identity, as opposed to Parent V2. Ties in closely to point 2.
I think being a parent also makes you kind of hyper sensitive to the idea of failure. There is no how to manual for raising children, or rather there are but there are like 200 of the things and they all give conflicting advise depending on when they were written and by whom and for what purpose. I can understand how a parent sees their kid mess something up and their brainweasels immediately jump to “well great you’ve ruined your kid, if you don’t course correct hard they’ll probably end up in jail or something.”
I don’t know! But it seems like an awful lot of adults feel this way about most teens, not just their own kids. And so many adults encourage each other to completely stop paying attention to what events and conditions could be personally motivating a teen– even if it would be obvious that an adult or child would be affected by whatever it is– and instead just ascribe everything to Terrible Teendom. It’s like how women’s emotions are dismissed as “she must be on her period,” but for like ten years straight.
I’m going to say that part of this devilteen reaction is from puberty – my daughter is 10. She’s starting to develop so I know some of her moodiness is due to hormones.
Part of it may be due to standard narrative that all teenagers are monsters. Parents want to fit in with their peers.
Part of it is probably due to a parenting fail. The kids look like adults and therefore should act like adults. Or at least older than a kid. My son is 8 and is the size of most kids 2+ years older than him. He gets treated like a 10 year old but acts like an 8 year old. His dad and I are both guilty of it and try to not do it. But it can be frustrating when you expect someone to act one way and they act another.
“Now this woman is less crazy than most who go to that mental space”
“but this woman took it to the crazy place”
“That right there appears to be a piece of it, of the crazypants switch-flip ”
Please don’t do this. There are better terms for describing this behavior that don’t involve throwing people like myself under the bus.
Thanks for adding that, and so kindly, too.
Would phrasing like “disconnected from reality” be better, for example? Or “unnecessarily cruel and harsh”?
I think “crazy” has a lot of cachet because it doesn’t have a lot of syllables, it’s a familiar word that everyone already knows, and it’s convenient shorthand. But as you point out, it’s really hurtful too.
Are there other synonyms we can suggest? (I feel like there has to be a Tumblr about this somewhere.)
Honestly I think that, like a lot of things, it’s just going to take the extra effort of spelling things out. My initial idea was to suggest “Irrational” but given how it frequently gets used I don’t think that is ideal either. But to show willing here’s how I’d rephrase the problematic sentences:
“Now this woman is less crazy than most who go to that mental space”= “Now this woman isn’t quite as extreme as those who go into that mental space”
“but this woman took it to the crazy place”= “but this woman took it way too far” or even “but this woman went beyond the pale”
“That right there appears to be a piece of it, of the crazypants switch-flip” = ” this right there appears to be a piece of it, the complete reversal of mindsets to”
I believe you could drop those sentences in place and not change the meaning the author was getting across. And honestly, I get it. “Crazy” is an easy go to word given how we as a society have used it. I can’t stop people from using it, but here at CA I do feel it’s important to point these things out.
This post reminded me of the awesomeness of Scarleteen just in time for me to recommend it to a friend. So thank you Captain for this amazingly timely post!
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