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Teenage Rebellion: The Alien Who Lives in Your Child's Room

It's like something from an M. Night Shyamalan movie. You live with a child since birth, you give your precious baby your love and best effort at mentoring, you take in ballgames and ballets and school plays and wipe away a thousand tears, and then one day something very strange happens in your house. While you were off doing other things, totally unsuspecting that your world is about to crumble around you, the body of this child is suddenly inhabited by an alien creature, a strange and unpredictable being that has seemingly devoured the very soul of your pride and joy and is spouting ridiculous demands and judgments that make you wonder what’s in the water at school. You consider that it might have something to do with the appearance of hair in new places on your child’s body, and you’d be more right than wrong about that. Because with the arrival of even the most premature of hormones comes the advent of several years of skewed thinking – at least from your point of view – that tests you in ways you never imagined. At one extreme it’s called teenage rebellion, and while the target of this wrath will drift from issue to issue over a span of four to five years, one thing will remain a constant subject of debate: you, and the fact that you are no longer the smartest person in the room.

Hormones create a sense of independence, nature’s way of signaling that it’s time to leave the nest and fly solo. Because everything about living with one’s parents is defined by limits, it follows that this phenomenon will focus on the testing of those limits, all with a view toward the child establishing their own identity and purpose. For some this is confined to a series of dinner table debates and heated backseat conversations, and if handled with love and patience this can be the sum of the storm of insurgence emanating from your child’s room. But it is not uncommon for the floodgates of emotional upheaval to manifest in problems at school or with friends, and occasionally with the local authorities. It doesn’t mean your kid is “bad” or that you have failed miserably at the eleventh hour of your parenting journey, it just means you have to look more closely at the situation and decide where in the sand to draw the line, and what to do once that line is crossed.

The elixir of survival here is a continued open line of dialogue between you and your child. And while it may seem like this is the last thing your child wants, the wise parent perseveres and allows the child to, in effect, talk their way through this. The thing they’re looking for is your respect – even in the midst of telling you that you and your entire life is a fraud – and despite the surface defiance they’re still open to your coaching, they’re listening much more carefully than you think they are. Such a strategy is fraught with risk, because the more you talk to your rebellious teen the more things you’ll hear coming out of their mouth that don’t make sense and are likely to send you over the edge of reason. So arm yourself with understanding before you suit-up and step into this void, because the aliens are dangerous and the stakes are significant.

Rebellious teens desire two levels of response which at a glance appear to be contradictory, but really aren’t. They want independence and the chance to voice opinions that aren’t parroted reiterations of your own. In doing so they will strive to make you wrong as often as possible, which is their means of establishing some credibility in being right. And yet, they are testing you as the unspoken agenda plays out amidst the tears and raised voices. They are asking you to empathize, to walk a mile in their shoes, even if they no longer fit. They are asking you to be the bad guy, to place limits on their freedom that remove prerogative from their side of the ledger. They are telling you that they are both excited and afraid, and they are asking you to let go of your need to control what they believe and what they do, to simply love them unconditionally and hang in there until they cast off this hormonally-inspired demon and return to earth as a card-carrying adult. They want to be a teenager – part child, part adult, part family, part independent. And they expect you to roll with it, all without disapproval and, more importantly, disrespect.

The wise starting place for this journey is a small grin of expectation as your child dons the alien suit and begins to confront you. Stay engaged but refrain from judgment. Release control but do not relinquish caring and responsibility. And most of all stay the course, remain courageous in the face of an alien attack, knowing that the sea of hormones will subside and your child will one day return, all the wiser and more appreciatove of you than ever before. Just don’t say or do something you will regret later, because even aliens can bleed, and the scars don’t return with them to the other planet from whence they came.

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