You’re familiar with the “Terrible Twos,” the period in a toddler’s development, when he begins to examine his rights. His favorite words are “NO!” and “MINE!” and he’s not a very cooperative little fellow. Go to bed – No! Pick that up – No! Share with your brother – Mine! Give me that – Mine! Time for lunch – No! Not a very fun period of time for parents, but almost everyone knows to expect it. Children in the “Terrible Twos” need a great deal of supervision, a whole lot of guidance, lots of limit-setting, and they need to be forced to do a fair amount of things they really don’t want to do. Parents must deal with tantrums when the toddler disagrees. The youngster will whine, cry, scream, throw things, refuse to move, or may even hurl himself to the ground and flail about. We’ve all seen it, and, in some circumstances, the kid is so cute pitching the fit that we have to turn our heads to smile, then turn to the child with a serious ‘parent-face’ and continue to send him to bed. The tantrums are annoying, but they don’t feel all that threatening, because when it really comes down to it, you can pick the little bugger up and take him to wherever he needs to be or wash his face, or take whatever it is away from him. It’s not that big of a deal because we’re so much bigger than they are.
Fast forward about 12 years. Now you’ve got a 14-year-old child and you find yourself in a developmental period that seems vaguely familiar, only you’ve forgotten how to handle the child because now he is walking and talking and devising arguments that might convince the Supreme Court of his right to stay out past his cerfew. Teens enter a developmental phase that is very much like the “Terrible Twos,” around the age of 14. It can come earlier or later, but it begins when the child acquires abstract reasoning skills. He will examine his rights again, just like he did when he was two. A “Terrible Teen” says “No” when you tell him what to do, even when he was a well-behaved pre-teen. You will tell him to empty the garbage and instead of smiling sweetly and doing so, he will cross his arms and challenge you with a big, fat, “Why should I?” You tell him to turn down the music and he smarts back that it’s his stereo in his room and he should be able to play it as loud as he wants. You tell him to take his younger sibling along with him to the park and he refuses. All of a sudden, you’re hearing the familiar cries of “NO!” and “MINE!”
Well, “Terrible Teens” need the same things that the “Terrible Twos” needed. They need a lot of supervision. A 16-year-old is generally less trustworthy in the house alone than they were when they were 11. They also need a great deal of limit-setting. It would never occur to your 12-year-old to take the family car out for a joy-ride, but your 15-year-old might just think to try that. A 3rd grader wouldn’t leave his friend’s house to go to another friend’s house without someone’s permission, but “Terrible Teens” often think it is perfectly acceptable not only to leave one friend’s house to go to another’s, they also think it’s perfectly okay if they don’t even know the person to whose house they’re going! “Terrible Teens” will also quit doing things that they had previously been very reliable in doing. They may stop brushing their teeth regularly or showering or picking up their clothes. They may need to be forced to do a whole lot of things they don’t want to do.
“Terrible Teens” also throw tantrums that rival any toddler’s feeble efforts. They roll their eyes, grumble under their breath, call their parents names, assert that their parents don’t love them, and they denounce their membership in the family. They may curse, threaten physical violence, destroy property, or even push or shove a parent. Worse ‘tantrums’ include skipping school, smoking marijuana, cutting on themselves, and lighting things on fire. Although teen tantrums are quite serious, you’ve got to treat them pretty much the same way you did the toddler tantrums. Don’t lose track of how cute your kid really is, even when he’s throwing a tantrum, and make him do whatever it is he’s got to do. Keep the cerfew in place, refuse to let him go to an unsupervised party, and take the car away when he’s had drunk people in the car. Don’t let tantrums work to make you give in or they will continue into your child’s adulthood. Certainly you know someone who’s in their “Terrible Thirties,” still throwing tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Do your teen a favor and compassionately help him through his “Terrible Teens,” just like you did through the “Terrible Twos.”