Parenting middle school children is kind of like a close encounter with an alien species: suddenly the child who was calm, collected, and fairly responsive to parental intervention is an expert on imitating The Blob at one moment, and a raging tiger the next.
Of course, as parents we know to expect this, but somehow I think most of us get caught out in the rain on this one. Wishful thinking? Perhaps.
It’s not that we don’t want our children to grow up to be happy, successful adults who can handle pretty much whatever the world throws at them – it’s more like we’re hoping we can skip the vegetables and cut right to the dessert.
For those of you who insist on eating your green beans before the chocolate mousse pie, here are some tips that will help you understand why that hulking stranger in your child’s bedroom sometimes acts like they do:
1) Sleep deprivation
Teenagers are fantastic at the great denial: the insistence that they are not tired, and have too much to do anyway to possibly even consider sleeping.
The fact is, however, that your teenager is growing at a rapid rate. Both boys and girls can add an extra 8-9 cm a year to their height. Toss in added muscle mass, bone density, and the general increase in hormones and you’ve got one heck of a stone soup.
All of that growing means that teenagers need a lot of sleep- at least 9.5 hours a night. Since studies show that the average teen gets only about 7.4 hours of sleep a night, you can probably guess the result: a cranky, grumpy teen who acts a lot like they did when they were three and needed a good nap before they were human again.
If you do the math, you can easily see that a teen who gets up at 6:00 am for school would need to be in bed by 9:00 pm in order to get the right amount of sleep. Unfortunately, studies show that many teens aren’t able to fall asleep that early, because their brains aren’t ready for bed.
You can help your teen get the sleep they need by encouraging a regular bedtime (the body can’t easily make up missed sleep), encouraging your teen to participate in some form of exercise during the day, and eliminating caffeine.
As a parent of a teenager you may have noticed the rapid disappearance of foodstuffs in your house, and so hunger would usually not be on your shortlist of why teens can get out of control.
Unfortunately for your food budget, growing teens really do need a lot of extra energy. Plus, it’s quite common for teens to fill up on junk or fast food, depriving their bodies of the protein they need for long-lasting energy.
You can help your teen by providing low-fat, high-energy protein snacks, such as peanut butter, beef jerky, cottage cheese and fruit, tuna, protein bars, and believe it or not - oatmeal.
3)Time with you
It may seem hard to imagine, but your teenager really does want to spend time with you. Most teens do want a relationship with their parents; they’re a lot like toddlers, who want to be independent while reserving the right to monopolize your attention.
If you take a look at your teen’s day and see that most of your interactions were on the order of “are you ever going to take out the garbage” or “turn down that music-not all of us want to go deaf,” then you might want to consider taking some time off to spend some quality time with your teen.
Sometimes teens are wary about spending time with their parents because they imagine it’s merely a cover for “the big talk.” So you don’t have to plan a night out on the town, if that will raise your teen’s hackles. Instead, make an extra effort to be fully “there” when your teen comes home, or sits down with you at the table.
It’s easy to be so focused on socializing online that we forget the people in front of us.
Instead, put away the ipod, the Blackberry. Shut off the TV, and send your PC to sleep. Try something novel and old-fashioned instead: Talk to your children. You might be surprised at what they have to say.