The Family Project: Belligerent teen
Editor’s Note: If you have a parenting question you would like answered in The Family Project column, email Project Child: projectchildlv.org.
Why has my teenage daughter suddenly turned against me? My 17-year-old daughter has suddenly become very belligerent towards me. It is hurting my feelings, and I don’t know what to do about it. She was not like this before. She was kind and easy-going. What can I do?
The answer could be that it is behavior stemming from typical adolescent development, according to the panel.
Said panelist Pam Wallace, “The daughter may be trying to create more separation, more independence. She doesn’t want to tell mother everything, asserting herself.”
Or, Wallace continued, “There’s a pattern of getting to that age, knowing that they will be leaving for one reason or other, and not consciously but developmentally, they want to make the transition easy on everyone by getting the parents to the point of being glad to see them go. That’s my theory of why 17- and 18-year-olds start getting that way. It is normal post-adolescent development.”
Panelist Chad Stefanyak expressed concern for the mental health of the mother. “Does she feel strong enough to set boundaries? To say, ‘It’s not acceptable to speak to me this way. I understand that I may not be the go-to person to talk about things anymore, but I’m still not going to let you abuse me verbally.’”
“We need to be civil,” Wallace added. “The daughter can be angry or upset, but not abusive.”
Referring to children’s abusive behavior at home, Stefanyak said, “I hear that a lot from parents who say their children will hold it together at school, they’ll hold it together among the kids, but at home they kind of let loose. There’s something about that venue that the child feels safer acting out and testing boundaries. There’s a lot of push-back with parents seeing and hearing this behavior. You don’t see that at all in the schools. But I believe them [the parents].”
The other panelists agreed that it was OK for youths to “feel these things,” but it’s not OK to have free range to act on them, or to take them out on someone else who doesn’t deserve it. Stefanyak said the parent’s response should be, “I know what you are feeling, but I don’t deserve this. I deserve better treatment.”
“The point is, when you get out in the real world, you can’t do that,” panelist Denise Continenza said. She also warned against parents trying to buy their childrens’ acceptance or affection. “Recognizing that ‘We had a real nice time today. We talked nicely.’ is one thing, but buying things or doing things in hopes the child will like you is a trap you don’t want to get into.”
Stefanyak asked if the mother is losing control because the daughter is 17. “We’re looking at college. There are a lot of changes that are about to occur, and there is that whole family dynamic involved. There should be a conversation about counseling for the daughter and-or the mother. The approach should be ‘I need this. Do this for me.’ or ‘We need this.’ not ‘You need counseling because there is something wrong with you.’”
The panel of experts suggested using resources at school or going to the primary physician for a list of counselors. The mother also can contact her insurance company and ask for help in getting counseling for her daughter.
This week’s team of parenting experts and guest panelists are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Erin Stalsitz, Casework Supervisor, Lehigh County Children and Youth, and Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension.
The Family Project weekly column is a collaborative effort between the Leigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.