The Trouble with Kittens Is That They Grow Up to Be Cats

Dear Mr. Dad: Our adorable little girl has turned into a difficult, rebellious teenager. She’s only 14, but she already insists on wearing make-up, and screams things like, “I hate you!” and “It’s my life so you can’t tell me what to do.” Help!

A: And people say the terrible twos are bad? Ha! It won’t come as much comfort right now, but just about every parent of a teen has watched helplessly as their sweet baby morphed into something not nearly as sweet.

The first thing to do is take a deep breath and summon up as much patience as you can—you’ll need about four years’ worth.

Here’s what’s happening. As your daughter matures from child into adult, she’s going through a lot of changes. Those famous raging hormones are causing mood swings, angry outbursts (mostly directed at you), as well as those even-more-famous feelings of being misunderstood. In order to assert her own identity and independence from you, she has to treat you like her worst enemy, yelling that you don’t understand her, don’t want her to be happy, and insisting that she’s old enough to make her own decisions. Unfortunately, her friends, the media, and other external influences are supporting her in this.

The only thing you can do is keep the communication lines open. Tell your daughter that no matter what she does, you’ll always be there for her. No matter how ugly things get, try to keep your cool, hug her often, and tell her you love her even more often. She may not respond immediately (or she may respond by shoving you away), but she’ll always remember that you never gave up on her.
Teenagers often rebel because they feel their parents are clipping their wings by imposing too many don’ts. So this may be a good time to revise your old rules and give your daughter a bit more freedom. But there’s a cost: if she wants that freedom, she’ll have to go along with some basic rules. For example:

  • Health and safety issues (drinking, smoking, doing drugs) are non-negotiable. Make a list of things you consider off limits and stick with it.
  • She’ll need to maintain good grades, keep up on her household chores, and be respectful and polite toward family members. That means no screaming, swearing, or door slamming in the house.
  • No tattoos or body piercings until she’s 18 (but don’t be too harsh on Goth makeup, purple hair, or an extra earring or two–things that don’t do any lasting damage are hardly worth fighting over).

If she can follow those rules, you’ll allow her to:

  • Stay out a bit later on weekends, as long as you know where she is and with whom. If her current curfew is 10 pm, consider extending it to 11. This shows her you trust her enough to give her some more freedom.
  • Select her own clothes (unless she goes completely overboard on the cleavage). Giving her this freedom will go a long way.
  • Choose her own friends. As long as she’s not spending time with known delinquents or kids you know for sure are a bad influence (drugs, alcohol), don’t criticize her peer group or tell her what losers they are.

Although the above concessions may not be easy for you to live up to, you’re laying foundation for a trusting and open relationship that will, hopefully, help smooth out some of the bumps on the path from “terrible” teenagehood into peaceful adulthood.

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