How to Cope with Tween Attitude

Take Charge on 11.05.12
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Photo: Britt Reints

Twelve, it seems, is the new terrible. In one month, my son will turn 13, but I’ve already spent almost a year in the throes of an attitude problem that I expected wouldn’t rear its unwashed head until he was closer to 16. My parenting friends with their own tweens tell me I’m in good company. That shared misery is oddly comforting.

Although I don't feel like I've mastered anything in the last 11 months, my family and I have survived. In fact, my husband and I still have a decent relationship with our son and a close bond to each other. More importantly, our sanity is mostly intact. We have, at the very least, learned a few things.

Pick your battles

Ugh. It’s such a cliché, but it’s also necessary if you don’t want to spend the next few years arguing non-stop. Our son is determined to test every single boundary we’ve ever set for him, sometimes all at once. My instinct is to push back and reassert my authority, but that’s just exhausting.

Instead, I’m asking myself more and more if an issue is really important to me. You want to let your hair grow into your eyes? Whatever; it’s your face. You’d rather stay home than go out to eat with your family? Enjoy your PB and J. My priorities right now include safety, health and respect. Consistent personal hygiene is a plus.

Keep talking

Remember when you couldn’t get a moment of peace because your little one always wanted your attention? No more. My son would rather do just about anything than talk to me, including homework. It hurts my feelings and I wish I had a better idea of what was going on in his head these days, but I’m also pretty sure this is normal.

I am not, however, going to let the lines of communication go completely dead. Clearly, that means I’m going to have to do all of the work in this relationship for a while.

We eat dinner as a family and I ask him every single night how his day went. I ask specific questions about individual classes and memorize any friends’ names he lets slip. I tell him about my day and how I’m feeling, hoping it will remind him what sharing looks like.

I also continue to ask the uncomfortable questions about relationships, the ones he tries desperately to avoid. I keep a straight face and remind him that he can always talk to me. I’m not sure if he’ll ever take me up on that offer. I keep trying anyway.

Get your own support system

That "keep trying" bit? It’s hard -- harder than I thought it would be. I wasn’t prepared for how painful it would be to have my child suddenly lose interest in anything I had to say. I didn’t realize how much I cared about my kid actually enjoying my company.

I cannot imagine doing this without my husband. The never ending scorn is more bearable when there’s someone else to share the burden of resentment.

Of course, we don’t all have the luxury of a co-parent, but we all need some kind of support system to survive these tween years. It’s not just about having someone to unite with at home.

The cold, hard truth is that we need to replace some of the affection we used to get from our kids. Friends, family members and other parents that make us laugh or listen when we talk are essential for keeping ourselves mentally well while our kids are finding themselves. We needed to be reminded that we are not, in fact, the most annoying people on the planet.

We are good enough, doggone it, and people do like us – just not our kids, right now.

Do you have any tips to share for surviving the tween and teen years as a parent?

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