Last night I met with a wonderful group of moms doing one of my "Ask The Expert" parties. (think Tupperware but instead of buying plastic, you buy parenting tips) These give me an opportunity to hear what is foremost on the minds of parents, and last night's gig left me thinking about a a few things.
One question that came up was: "Is it unrealistic to expect that my teen gets me? How about our hard day at work, and keeping up with the schedules and activities of our three children, and taking care of an aging parent?" How hard is it for them to understand that parents are also stressed to the max and can't always be available to "take me, show me, buy me? The short answer...very hard. Your teen is a narcissist plain and simple. But don't worry it is not a life time personality disorder, just a short-term one.
Your teen's brain is exploding with new connections. In fact the number of new connections that are made in the brain during adolescence is equal to the number of new connections made during the first 18 months of life. That is a lot of brain activity to process. And just like a computer that crashes when you try to keep too many applications open, so does the teenage brain. Your teen is too busy trying to process, file away or send to trash all the input from their day. Because they are literally seeing and feeling the world in a whole new way, they are often overwhelmed. This comes across as self-centered, disinterested, and dismissive. They are the center of their own world, and right now you are a bit player, lost in the chorus. Like all good narcissists they only see your woes in relation to the effect it has on their very important life. So rather than be sympathetic to your long work day and commute, they jump on you as soon as you walk in the door with a " where have you been, I need you to.....?" No hug, and "hi how was your day, you look tired, and hungry, sit down and let me rub your feet." In a recent coaching session, a mom told me how her husband had gotten laid off from his very lucrative job. They had a very large, comfortable home with all the amenities that the kids had grown up in, and because of the job loss, they had to sell that home, and move to a new community, and rent a much smaller house. The younger kids totally got it, and like all adorable wonderful 6, 8, and 10 year olds they jumped into action. Excited about this new adventure, they started packing up their old rooms, and planning for their new ones. The 13 year old, now he was another story. He saw this move as a personal vendetta to ruining his life. No more the beautiful game room his friends had hung out in every weekend, no more big beautiful bedroom he had to himself, and to boot, a move to a new school. He was very up front about the fact that he was embarrassed to have kids at he new house, and furious with his parents for making him come to this "loser town". The easy thing would be to label this kid as spoiled rotten or entitled. Much harder to "get" his self-centered perception of these new circumstances.
These are stressful times for parents. Financial and job crisis's abound. Parents are aging and require our help, and now to boot, that delicious love that your 8 year old showered on you to help buffet you from the storm, now as a 14 year old is now absent, or at the least sporadic. Instinctively, when kids act like brats, we tell them so with a " don't be so selfish" trying to teach them that selfishness is a quality you don't want to see in them. However, truly your teen is capable of great love and understanding, as long as you understand them first. It is important when you see them at their worst, that rather than criticizing you understand. For example in a family where parents are stretched to the limit, rather than going to the angry place of " Can't you see how hard we are working, how do you think we pay for that laptop you begged us for, or that fancy phone you demanded, or the $100 jeans your wearing, you think money grows on trees?"Maybe you could say this: I know its been crazy, with work, and taking care of grandma, I know we haven't been around much, and maybe it feels like we haven't been able to do what you need us to do. I am sorry. I love you and I wish things could be different, but for now we are kind of on overload." When your kids hears that you understand his perspective, his/her most likely response will be a grunt of "I'm fine don't worry about it." It may not be the hug and kisses you want, but it is their way of "getting" that you have a life too. When kids feel judged and criticized you get the worst of their narcissism, when you understand it, you get the best of it.