The Origins of Fighting with your Teenager

By: Dr. Noel Swanson

For 13 years you have slaved and worried. You have changed diapers, nursed them through chickenpox, cried on their first day at school, cheered for them in the school Christmas play, patched up skinned knees, and packed their lunch box for their first day at secondary school.

Those years must have been the most difficult, right? They were totally dependent upon you and that took a great deal of your energy. Shouldn't it be easier now that they are teenagers? They are more independent and don't need your help in every situation. They can also help you around the house and in the garden. They can take care of themselves if you want a night out on the town. You can converse with them about subjects you will both enjoy, right?

So what goes wrong when they hit that 13th Birthday??? In many cultures they would now be considered adults - old enough to marry, old enough to sit in the village council to listen to the debates with the elders. Yet in the West, the teen years seem, so often, to be full of strife and conflict. Why does this occur?

There are two parts to the answer: biology and culture.

The brain is complex. It is in a great state of growth and development during the teenage years. It is always growing, expanding, evaluating, and making links. These links build the foundation for memory, learning, perception, and social rationale.

From birth through age 12, your child's brain experiences and learns a large amount. At birth the brain communicates through non-verbal means and by age 12 your child can communicate through effective verbal and reasoning means.

Then the teenage years hit the brain like a tornado. The brain goes into a state of shambles after which it rebuilds itself. While your brain is rebuilding itself your child might not be able to do some of the things they could before. For example, speaking to the opposite sex has suddenly become virtually impossible without becoming quite nervous. Throughout the teen years your child will need to understand the components of social interaction and how they fit into the whole social scene. They will make friends and strive to find their sexual ife partner.

But learning this stuff is difficult. The brain has to operate in these fields while, at the same time, it is re- programming itself to a much greater degree of sophistication that it had in the pre-teen years. And that is what causes such variability in their social functioning: At times they are acutely aware of social nuances. At other times they just don't seem to get it.

This tug-of-war is also affected greatly by the ups and downs of their sex hormones. Plus, teens tend to stay up late and skip much needed sleep. These factors together can make for one feisty teenager.

Teens also have to deal with the different expectations placed on them now that they are teenagers. They hear every day from many sources that they "should" be doing certain things and the definitions between normal and abnormal. Expectations for how they should act during each year of their teenage experience is detailed by their parents, friends, teachers, police, and society. It can be hard for a teenager to discern exactly how they should act when they have all these people forcing their opinions on them.

This leads into the problem with forcing expectations. If you have one, then there is the possibility that your expectation will not be met. A behavior that is considered a "no-no" is turned into a big problem.

The combination of the varying expectations, sex hormones, and plain teenage angst cause your teenager to act like a pleasant dear one minute and a force to be reckoned with the next.

How do you cope with a teenager that is up and down in their emotions and actions? You can use some of these tips. When you have a fight with your teenager or you are just sick of what they are doing, take heed of the following:

1) Fighting and yelling are not effective.

2) Your teen, like you, is simply trying to achieve the very best outcome that he or she can, given her current abilities and perspectives (which are probably different to yours),

3) Remember your teenager is still trying to sort life out and may not understand either why you are fighting.

4) Whose problem is this? Whose agenda? What, exactly, will happen if the outcome of all of this is opposite to your desires? Does that *really* matter, in the grand scheme of things?

5) Brainstorm different ways of communicating with your teenager besides forcing them to see things your way.

6) The teen years will pass - they will grow up. When they do, what kind of relationship do you want to have with them, and what memories?

In conclusion, it is a good idea to have rules and expectations. However, relax a little. Don't be so strict that you push your teenager away. Figure out how to have fun together so you can both get through the teenage years with fun and enjoyment.

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For more tips on child behavior and for his outstanding book, take a visit to Dr. Noel Swanson's website He also does a free newsletter which is well worth getting.

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