David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings, Senior Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
Few things strike fear into the hearts of parents more than the approaching adolescence of their children. They have heard horror stories from family and friends about what it was like with their kids and dread the unknown. Will their happy-go-lucky child turn into some sort of a sullen monster? Will the childhood skirmishes of yesterday turn into open teenage warfare?
The roller coaster of adolescence is so prevalent, so stereotypical in some ways, that it has developed into a sort of cultural shorthand. Just say the words “teen angst” to a group of parents of adolescents and heads will nod. It’s a universal catch-phrase for anything from explosive anger to all-is-lost despair. Even kids who weather their teenage years with relative calm still undergo their seasons of adolescent squalls. With all of that swirling around in our heads, how can we know if our teen’s season of discontent is just that or something more?
Depression has the ability to derail a teenager’s progress toward healthy adulthood while confusing and frustrating parents. With years of experience, Dr. Jantz will answer the hard questions about the most critical season of your child’s life:
The Stranger in Your House will help parents to push beyond the closed door that is adolescence and open the door to hope.
Who Are You, and What Have You Done with My Child?
He’s in his room for what seems like days, emerging periodically and answering questions with sullen, monosyllabic responses.
She’s moody, teary, and irritable, one minute demanding you drop everything to tend to her needs and the next minute demanding you just leave her alone!
He’s not going out for tennis this year, even though he did well last year. When you ask him why, he can’t really give you an answer, other than he’s not interested anymore. As you think about it, there are a lot of
things he just doesn’t seem that interested in anymore. He seems to fill up his time somehow, but you’re not sure with what. When he was younger, his life was an open book; now, he’s closed the cover and locked you out.
She’s constantly negative—about everything. Nothing ever goes right; she never looks right; you never act right. She used to be a fairly happy kid, but now she’s just difficult to be around, which kind of works
out because you hardly ever see her anyway.
He complains about headaches and not feeling well. It’s hard to get him up in the morning to go to school. If he could sleep until noon every day, you think he would, and suspect he does when you need to leave early for work.
She’s rarely at the dinner table anymore. Instead, she says she’s already eaten, grabs a bag of chips and a soda, and goes to her room. When you ask her about it, she says she’s too busy to spend time with the family and prefers to work in her room, but you’re not exactly sure what she’s doing in there.
He used to spend hours chattering away about all sorts of things; you used to spend time together. Now, having a root canal seems higher on his priority list than spending any time with you.
As sure as she is that she’d really rather not spend time with the family anymore, that seems to be all she’s sure about. It takes her what seems like hours to get dressed in the morning, her chair piled high with discarded outfits. She doesn’t know what she wants to do or what she wants to eat, and getting her to sit down to do her homework is almost unbearable.
You know he’s got clean clothes because you do the laundry, but he seems to constantly wear the same clothes you could swear he went to bed in. His hair is never combed, and you’re worried about how often he’s doing things like brushing his teeth and wearing deodorant. He never seems to stand still long enough for you to really tell. Instead, you see more of his backside leaving than anything else about him.
You’re living on pins and needles, wanting to maintain family rules and responsibilities for the sake of the younger kids, but it’s sheer torture to get any sort of commitment from her to do her chores. She always
promises to do them later, but, somehow, that later never seems to happen. It’s often more tiring to keep asking her to do her chores, so you end up just doing them yourself.
Sunday mornings are even worse than weekday mornings. Getting him up and ready for church hardly seems worth it. He used to go willingly, but now there’s always a reason why not. Just getting him in the car is a thirty-minute argument.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t get that sense in your gut that your teen is unhappy. It’s as if he or she walks around in a swirling cloud of discontent, frustration, and irritation. Sometimes it’s so thick you have trouble making out the person inside. It hurts because that person is still your child, no matter the age.
Few things strike fear into the heart of parents more than the approaching adolescence of their children. They’ve heard horror stories from family and friends, and they dread the fear of the unknown and how
it’s going to go with their own kids. Will that happy-go-lucky child turn into some sort of a sullen monster? Will the childhood skirmishes of yesterday turn into open warfare? Will the days of having
their friends over all the time turn into years of going out to be with friends somewhere else?
Most of us can remember feeling awkward, unattractive, anxious, and overwhelmed as teenagers. We remember living under our own swirling cloud of discontent, especially with our parents and with our own bodies. Sometimes it seemed like we lived in a box, with all four sides pressing inward, squeezing us. Other times, we just wanted to explode out of that box. For several years, our lives were a roller coaster: It was a wild ride, terrifying and exhilarating. As parents, it’s not something we necessarily look forward to repeating with our own kids.
The roller coaster of adolescence is so prevalent, so stereotypical in some ways, it’s developed into a sort of cultural shorthand. Just say the words teen angst to a group of parents of adolescents, and heads will nod. It’s a universal catchphrase for anything from explosive anger to all-is-lost despair. Even kids who weather their teenage years with relative calm still undergo times of double loops with gut-wrenching climbs and terrifying falls because no one is totally immune to adolescence—or life, for that matter.
You knew this ride was coming. Most of you willingly got in line years ago, when you took that sweet, beautiful baby home from the hospital. It’s been years in the making, but now you’re once again in the midst of that tumultuous phase of life known as adolescence. But this time it’s not you in the driver’s seat; you’re along for the ride, but how high you climb and how far you fall are no longer merely
dependent upon you. Just when you thought you were supposed to be carefully “letting go,” your child’s behavior does nothing but make you want to hang on tighter—or sometimes it makes you seriously
consider letting go altogether from sheer exasperation. It was hard enough, frankly, to survive your own teenage years; how are you supposed to help your child survive his or hers?
It’s a weird time of life for a parent. You’re still responsible for your teenager physically, morally, and certainly financially; but your teen is taking on, trying on, and experimenting with more and more of his or her own responsibility. How far should that experimentation go? How far is far enough, and when it is too far?
But what if your teen is experiencing more than just the normal ups and downs of adolescence? How can you tell? More than likely, all you’ve got to go on is what you experienced yourself as a teen, but is that really the baseline you should use with your own teen? What if there are fewer and fewer ups and more and more downs? Is your teenager in a “phase,” or has that “phase” spiraled into something more serious? As a parent, you’re expected to know the difference—without any training and while you’re in the midst of the moment yourself. You’re supposed to be able to diagnose a teenager who makes it his or her life mission to give you as little personal information as possible. This doesn’t appear to be a recipe for success.
None of us want our kids to be miserable as they’re transitioning from child to adult. And none of us, frankly, want to be miserable ourselves, weathering an incessant barrage of teenage moods and behaviors. Navigating this time of life can be complicated, and it’s perfectly reasonable to reach out for some answers and some help. That’s what this book is designed to do. It’s written to provide you with information so you can better understand
• what your teenager’s behavior means;
• when to relax and ride the wave of a teenage phase without pushing the panic button yourself;
• how teenagers get off track and how to help them get back on the right track;
• how to know if behavior reflects “just being a teen” or if it’s something more serious like clinical
• what behaviors you can work with and which ones you can’t;
• how to help your teen understand the Goddesigned future and promise waiting at his or her cusp of adulthood;
• when it’s time to get your teen professional help and how to choose the option best for your family
As a professional counselor for well over twenty-five years, I’ve devoted a good portion of my practice to working with teenagers. I’ve found them to be amazingly forthright and courageous, while at the same time vulnerable and confused. Often, they are doing what seems best to them to address their situation. Unfortunately, they often turn to risky and destructive behaviors as coping strategies through this turbulent time. When these coping behaviors end up taking on an ugly life of their own, the roller-coaster ride turns very dangerous. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Teenagers are on the cusp of their future. They’re still grounded in childhood but can easily see adulthood just off in the distance. They’re chomping at the bit to grow up and dragging their feet at the same time. Teenagers are on a mission toward that adulthood in the distance; they just need help navigating the path. You can’t take the steps for them, but you can help make the way clearer. It’s important to their development that they navigate this journey well and on their own, supported by you.
Detours at this age have long-range consequences. Closing the bedroom door—either as the teen or as the parent—on the problem isn’t going to make it go away. As a parent, you need to be ready to assist, even if your teen insists he or she absolutely does not want your help. This isn’t meddling; it’s parenting.
Because teenagers see themselves differently and consequently see parents differently, your commitment to your teen’s future is more complicated. When he stubbed his toe on the sidewalk curb at four and a half, a kiss, a hug, and a cartoon Band-Aid did the trick. When he stubs his heart on his first romantic rejection, it’s a little more complicated. When she refused to like the outfit you picked out for her at five, you had others to choose from. When she refuses to like herself at thirteen, it’s a little more complicated.
When it became a contest of wills with him at eight, you could win and still get a hug at the end of the evening. When it’s a contest of wills at fifteen and there’s no way he’s prepared to give in to you at
all, it’s a little more complicated. When she was ten and you wanted to spend time together, there was nothing she wanted to do more. When she’s sixteen and you want to spend time together and she just
looks at you with shocked disbelief and adopts a when-hell-freezesover expression, it’s a little more complicated.
Each phase of life has its own challenges. Parenting has never been for the weak-stomached (especially during the early years), the fainthearted, or the halfway committed. It can be tempting to take a backseat when your kid hits the teen years, figuring you’ve done the bulk of your work and you can just coast into his or her adulthood on all your previous parenting momentum. You’re older, more tired, and your less-than-active participation in their lives pretty much seems what teenagers want anyway. It’s tempting, yes, but don’t give in. You’re still the parent; you’re still the adult, and you still have work to do. Even if it doesn’t seem that way, your teenager desperately longs to be connected to you. He or she needs (notice I didn’t say wants) your acceptance, acknowledgment, and approval. No matter how much they argue to the contrary, teenagers—including yours—do not have life figured out yet. They don’t need you to live their lives for them, but they do need your guidance and your support, even when that’s the furthest thing from their minds and hearts.
And when that roller coaster goes off track, teenagers need someone to notice and take immediate steps to get things on the right path. Partnering together with your teenager to successfully navigate adolescence is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. It also has the outrageous potential to be the most rewarding.
Bringing It Home
When you think about your child becoming or being a teenager, what three words or phrases come mostly quickly to mind?
For each one, identify a specific incident or event that gives this feeling such validity in your mind. Please keep in mind that this could be something from your own adolescence that you’re
projecting onto your teenager.
If the attitude of parents of teenagers could be culled down to a single word, it could be concerned. Do any of the three words you’ve written above fall into a concerned or fear category? If they do, what are you concerned or fearful about?
In order to help remind you that all of this work and effort is worth it, I’d like you to create a photomontage of the teen in question, using at least five photographs of your child, ranging from infancy to the present. How you create the montage and where you put it is up to you, as long as it’s easily accessible. Here are some ideas, or you can come up with your own: a framed collection on your nightstand, a rotating screen saver on your computer, downloads on your cell phone, or simply individual photos in your purse or wallet. How you access them isn’t as important as looking at them regularly. You need to remember and remind yourself that all of this is worth it and that you love your adolescent, even when his or her behavior seems specifically designed to call that love into serious question.