Google was able to throw around 29,60,000 results in just 0.58 seconds when I searched for ‘managing teenage mood swings.’ And it took me precisely that amount of time to skim through the top 10 results to know that most parents, like me, are clueless and searching for answers in the ethers. Sometimes search doesn’t help but experience does.
I know it isn’t easy when your teen is inciting you for a war of words every day, during most conversations. While I am not a seer, but coming from a work-in-progress mom to a teen girl who goes through such endless sagas every week, here are my takeaways that help me maintain my sanity in dealing with this mother-daughter relationship.
Don’t react. Respond
Teenagers are a boiling pot of hormonal soup. As much as we try and anticipate their next mood swing, we can’t. And that’s why reacting to a meltdown isn’t really helpful. Laying down some responsive ground rules might help diffuse the situation. I usually tell my daughter, that speaking in a loud voice is not letting me understand her. So, while I make some chai for myself, she uses that time to compose a coherent sentence that we can have a discussion on. I avoid conversations which are not discussions. Of course, she finds her ways to tell me how critical I am generally of her, etc but I always choose responsiveness over reaction. And trust me now when in the middle of a conversation when I get up to make tea, she begrudgingly gets the point and we are sorted.
Advice when required, not always
I tend to, like most parents start dispensing advice when my teen comes to me about an issue that’s bothering her. Usually, it’s about someone’s behaviour towards her or someone judging her. And when I’d try and give her some gyaan on self-love, this approach backfires on me, most times. So yes, philosophy doesn’t work with teenagers neither do concepts like self-love at their age. Rather I encourage her sometimes that how well she has managed such problems in the past and that gives us a starting point. And sometimes, it helps her find her own fix, without any bad blood between us. Become familiar with things that are important to your teens. It doesn’t mean that you have to groove to BTS but showing an interest in the things they’re involved in shows them they’re important to you.
Teens need a toolkit
Today’s teens have challenges that their parents might not have faced while growing up. Virtual bullying, social media, peer pressure all stemming from an overflow of information creating a vortex of emotions that the teens have to wade through. In some cases, the mood-swings are their way of asking for help, and our inability to emphasise with them, makes the matters worse.
2020 was a tough year for my daughter and most of her friends, and I helped her connect with her school counsellor and also a child psychologist for her to process her challenges in a constructive way. Teenagers are facing unprecedented stress and their mental health can go for a toss. Tools like journaling, exercising, meditating helps to reduce stress and lead a calm life.
Practice the zen form of parenting
You know Zen and parenting are a paradox. A mythical land of flowing rivers where your teen and you take a leisurely stroll through the forest, hand-in-hand. In real life, you could be in a forest, on a hike with a sulking teen who is upset at being untethered from their phone, the constant chatter and is stuck with a parent, who sadly becomes the synonym for a bore. So perhaps, let’s try the art of stoicism, which has some practical application. The stoics have an exercise called Turning the Obstacle Upside Down, to make the bad a source of new good. Suppose for a second, that your teenager is asking for permission for a sleepover, which they know you would say ‘No’ to anyway, and is now being surly and telling you what a horrible parent you are. Instead of making next few days more difficult, the exercise says, that in this moment you can direct yourself to new virtues, such as patience, understanding of how funny this situation actually is (refrain from laughing though at your teen though), and more importantly self-appreciation for having been able to remain calm and composed and for not having let emotions control you.
Teens don’t need a manager
Just like we can’t manage the emotions of our friends, family or co-workers; we can’t manage teenagers’ emotions. Which brings us to the Serenity prayer, which I may add works wonders during a teenage hormonal tsunami. For the uninitiated here are the words we need:
“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Worrying about your teenager’s friend circle, the language they use, the moral codes they make break, rarely helps. So, what can we control? A home environment which allows for a safe space for your child, setting your phone away when they ask to speak to you and giving them their full attention. I have seen that discussing the consequences of their actions has helped my teen link impulsive thinking with facts. We cannot control their actions, but we can control our responses. We can set boundaries and let them know that breaking these boundaries will have repercussions.
Did you know that the rational part of a teen’s brain-the cortex, is still developing and won’t be fully developed until age 25. This means that connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making centre are still developing—and not always at the same rate. So, until your teen is 25, they will be feeling more than they think and that’s why us parents need to fortify ourselves with a support group of friends and other teen parents, stock on chai, coffee and wine, and know that for your teen, all roads lead back home to you and your loving arms.