It’s Not All Mary Poppins

expecting respect — teen version

A recent online conversation about teens provoked an email exchange, which seemed to me to be the essence of a pretty good post. This one’s about teens, not toddlers, but those of you with toddlers will soon see the parallels between teen and toddler behaviours! Anyone with teens certainly sees them. 🙂

And thus the parenting response is quite similar in principal, though different in execution.

In the conversation, one woman had said she didn’t sweat the small stuff, that she ignores the eye-rolling, sarcasm, and sneering. My hackles went up instantly.

The principle — don’t sweat the small stuff — is sound. The thing is, eye-rolling is an expression not only of disrespect, but of contempt. In studies done of marriages, certain behaviours are strong indicators of divorce within a predictable time-frame. Habitual expressions of contempt, which include sneering, sarcasm, and eye-rolling, are among them. John Gottman, the mathematician-turned-psychologist whose research is the cornerstone of this idea, comments that “respect and affection are essential to all relationships working and contempt destroys them.”

Teenagers may try to sneer, mock, and roll their eyes all the time, but they’re not “small stuff”, and I strongly believe you should sweat them.

My kids got my iciest rage if they ever sneered or rolled their eyes at me. “You may be angry at me, but you WILL express that anger respectfully, just as I am respectful with you.”

People have to learn that they can control their behaviour even when their emotions are involved. And that learning doesn’t come without lots of practice. I expect it of toddlers, in a rudimentary way, I expect it of teens, in a much more sophisticated (though not fully adult) way.

As I expect it of myself. Only seems reasonable.

My oldest might have sneered or rolled her eyes twice. The younger two learned from their big sister’s example, and, though my youngest has come close to the edge with sneering, I don’t think she’s ever once rolled her eyes at me. She has also been known to apologize for mood swings — without being asked!

While I have told her she can’t take out her bad mood on me, and she can certainly apologize for mood-driven bad behaviour, I don’t expect an apology for the mood itself, because mood swings? They’re small stuff. You don’t sweat ’em. (Like with the todders, “you can be angry, but you may not…”)

“Small stuff”also includes door-slamming, petulant tears, protestations of eternal misery, stomping up stairs, pouting…

I endeavour to help them put the moods in perspective, but very rarely do I attempt to do that WHILE the mood is ongoing… Expecting a teen to dissect/analyze an emotion while it’s being experienced is the very definition of “exercise in futility”. Wait. I lie. I did that with my FIRST child.

Live and learn.

I think the most important thing that I’ve learned re: teens is to observe the moods without being drawn into them. To let them roll over and through, but don’t get involved with the child until it’s over. My primary role during the negative mood is to ensure that its expression is respectful, and that innocent bystanders are not used as whipping-boys. “Respectful” doesn’t necessarily include calm or reasonable. They are allowed their emotions. It does mean “not aggressively rude”.

And when the teen is calm, when their rationality has asserted itself over the (probably hormonally-enhanced) emotions, THEN you can have the talk. (Which, with teens, particularly boys, might be three minutes at most. You learn to be CONCISE, with teens.) You can debrief, they can learn that you still love them… and that they have the power to control their own responses. That emotions are signposts, not roads, that they give us a certain amount of valuable information, but it’s the brain that gets us there.

And that if they roll their eyes at the momma, they risk losing one.

May 21, 2010 Posted by | aggression, manners, my kids, parenting, power struggle, socializing, tantrums | , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

In which Mary and the Wonderful Husband contribute to the cause of Public Betterment

The Wonderful Husband returns from a few days away. He travels fairly regularly for his work, though usually he’s only gone a couple of nights.

As he does from time to time, he has a gift for me. (Told you he was a Wonderful Husband.) This gift, being a bouquet of flowers, is not packed in a suitcase as such trinkets generally are, but exits the taxi with him and is presented on the front porch.

It’s a mild day, and a few neighbours are chatting on the sidewalk across the street. Tall blond husband across the way notices the exchange and calls out,

“Hey, knock it off! You’re making the rest of us look bad!”

And me — I am NEVER, EVER this quick off the mark — I holler back,

“Pfft. The rest of you should be taking notes!”

And while I give Wonderful Husband a big, heartfelt (and astonishingly public) kiss, the wives across the way applaud.

Mwah-ha.

March 2, 2010 Posted by | peer pressure | , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments