It’s Sunday morning.  I had actually intended to indulge myself with a sleep-in this morning. 

But at the ungodly Sunday morning hour of 6:30 a.m. I heard my 14 year old crying in the bathroom.  When I got up to investigate what had triggered this early morning meltdown, I found him with the first aid kit torn apart, trying to bandage a skateboarding wound that he’d somehow banged against the wall in his sleep.  He wasn’t having a very good time of it, so being the kind, compassionate mother that I am, I thought I’d do my best to draw upon my St. John’s Ambulance First Aid training and dress the wound. 

His tears of frustration quickly escalated into a full body thrashing (funny how what was almost cute when he was 3 is a bit frightening at 14), cursing every wound dressing technique I attempted, and then screaming at me to COME BACK when I left the room.  My own frustration mounted to a cursing level pretty quickly.

Oy vay.  Is 6:30 a.m. too early for a martini? 

Ugh.  Is this normal I found myself wondering? 

After I finally got him adequately bandaged so that HE went back to sleep, I poured myself a coffee and opened my laptop.  A quick Google search brought up FOUR MILLION and two hundred and twenty THOUSAND hits for ‘teenage tantrums’. 

Well then.  Small comfort.  I’m not alone in facing this barrage of irrational emotion. 

There is a lot of useless information posted on this topic, but I actually found this post helpful to a certain degree: http://gomestic.com/family/dealing-with-teenage-tantrums/

The idea of both my teen and I ‘going to our corners’ to cool down when emotions are flaring seems like a helpful idea, but in practice, it rarely works with my boy.  When he’s in full on needy mode – NOTHING will stop him from coming into ‘my zone’, and he’ll pester me, and pester me until I fly into a rage and then….I’m hooped.  Whatever has been going on –MY frustration, MY rage, MY meltdown now become the focus of his anger and I’ve lost my position of the cool, rational adult who has all the answers.  Well, maybe not all the answers, but even the authority. 

Charlie Beckett, director of Polis (a joint initiative from LSE and the London College of Communication) has some interesting comments on perspective:

First a grammar lesson:
Let’s conjugate the noun ‘teenager’:
My teenager is very individualistic,
Your teenager is out of control
Their teenager is totally dysfunctional.

 http://www.charliebeckett.org/?p=16 

John Rosemond, a family psychologist in Indianapolis has a slightly more conservative view: http://www.azcentral.com/families/articles/0202tantrums02.html

He argues that the “emotionally supercharged” teen is a relatively recent phenomenon, going on to suggest that until recently, in nearly every culture the 13-year-old was no longer regarded as a child. Nor was he/she an “adolescent,” as we today refer to the teenager. There was childhood, which effectively ended at 13, and there was adulthood.

Rosemond claims that the downside of what otherwise were necessary and good laws:  child labour and compulsory education, have extended the dependency of teens by six years or so.  Combine that with the cultural and media influences and he suggests we have a generation of teens that are acting out with tantrums, unpredictable mood swings, exaggerated emotional reactions to disappointment or frustration, and the generally dramatic ‘take’ teens have concerning their own lives that once the sort of self-centered behaviour reserved for pampered children of the very rich

There’s an emerging conservative in me that is nodding uh huh, yep, that’s SO true!! 

I’m reflecting upon the slightly overindulgent (ok, VERY indulgent) day I had with my son recently that finished up with me buying him a four and a half foot corn snake which he PROMISED he’d fully take care of, but apparently that didn’t include cleaning the snake’s poo off his bed when he let it crawl around on his bed.  I don’t even want to tell you about the screaming meamy meltdown that occurred yesterday over that little situation.  MOM!!!I HAVE POO ON MY HAAAANNNND!!!!!

OMG.

But, I also believe there’s more to it than that. 

A recent study of 137 boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 14 by Nicholas Allen at the University of Melbourne, Australia provided some interesting info.  Allen and his colleagues studied the children interacting with their parents during challenging interactions, then scanned the children’s brains.  They found that the children who were more aggressive during problem-solving tasks had bigger amygdalas—which triggers impulsive reactions to emotional situations, and that the boys who stayed aggressive for longer had smaller anterior cingulated cortexes—the part of the prefrontal cortex involved in more thoughtful and reflective responses.  So what they found was that the ‘thinking’ portion of the brain in more aggressive boys (there were different results for girls with similar asymmetries) wasn’t able to override the amygdala to regulate their behaviour. 

The good news was that the researchers also said that this could be a ‘temporary delay’ as those important prefrontal circuits haven’t quite come online yet and as they transition to a more adult brain, they might yet gain the ability to modulate their behaviour. 

Ok, so maybe there’s a legitimate reason that my boy is currently incapable of calming himself down when his frustration levels rise.

But as a parent, what do I do while I’m waiting for his brain to catch up with his emotions?  

Comments welcomed.

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