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The Roller Coaster of Adolescence: Keeping Your Feet on the Ground

If you have a teenager, you've likely figured out just what "The Roller Coaster of Adolescence" is referring to. It's the larger-than-life feelings, the huge dips and peaks of emotion and the rapid pace in which your teen loops up and down and back again. It's your teen's one and only true love bitterly turning to an unspeakable "ex" after a relationship that seemed to last for only minutes. Or it’s the overnight metamorphosis of "best friend forever" into mortal enemy. And, of course, it's the, "I hate you! You're the worst mom EVER!" followed that afternoon by the inevitable, "Can you drive me to the mall?"

So, if this sounds familiar you know (and probably all too well) about the dreaded "rollercoaster". But, what you might not know is that you don't have to go along for the ride! Of course, this is easier said than done. After all, you are a human being with your own feelings and your teen can be an expert at getting under your skin. With that said, there are a few tips you can keep in mind that can help you to keep yourself grounded, even if your teenager is flying through loops!

  • Keep it in perspective.

The fact is that the extreme highs and lows of adolescence are completely age appropriate for a teen. A teenager’s brain is different than that of an adult and in many cases, they don’t have control over their mood swings and highly charged emotional responses. Knowing that these types of behavior are characteristic of this life stage is the first step in being able to respond in a more appropriate and more helpful way, for both you and your child.

  • Keep an open mind and open lines of communication.

All the things that your teenager thinks are so incredibly important may not always seem so important to you. When your teen is going on and on about a problem they are facing, saying, “Oh, what are you complaining about? Enjoy it now because one day you’ll have real problems,” may not be the most helpful response. Try trading in such common and often well-intentioned replies for something more empathic and more understanding. You may be surprised how a full force rant can lose some speed if you sincerely say something like, “Wow, that sounds like it’s really hard for you.” You don’t have to agree with what they think and feel, but try to remember what your adolescence was like. Most of us would have been very happy to have had an available ear that listened without judgment and didn’t give advice, unless it was asked for. If you try this active listener approach, you don’t have to feel pressured to have all the answers, which can be a big relief for everyone involved.

  • Keep your sense of humor.

There is no getting around it- adolescence is stressful for both parent and child. To help lighten a situation, use the power of laughter. But, do it silently! Use some humorous self talk to keep your emotions cool as your teen turns up the heat. Thinking to yourself something like, “Thank goodness she’s only 16 for one year,” could be helpful for you. But, saying out loud, “Oh, here we go again, the drama queen has come to visit!” may not be a helpful response when your teen is starting to express some big feelings. Saying something like that is likely to embarrass, shame or enrage your teen. Their feelings are very real to them, so keep the smiles and smirks on the inside!

  • Keep your friends close.

Whether it’s your best friend, your mother or your partner, make sure you have a support network available. There are going to be times when you will need to vent, to share your feelings or just to get away for a fun night out. Lean on other adults so your child can lean on you. A parent who practices self-care is generally happier and healthier, plus they are usually able to be more available and more helpful when their teenager is really in need of support.

  • Keep your door closed.

Before you are at your wits end, give yourself some space. Whether it’s taking a hot bath or curling up in bed with a good book, make some “YOU” time. This is notably different than locking yourself in the bedroom when your teen is at the height of his emotions, though sometimes doing just that may seem like a great plan. The truth is that whether they’ll admit it or not, teens need their parents around as a stable home base when they are riding their emotional roller coaster. But, you can’t support them effectively if you are burnt out and fried.

Most parents would probably agree that it’s easy to get pulled into their adolescent’s roller coaster. And, to be honest, sometimes you will still end up going for the ride. However, if you follow these tips, you may find that there are more times when you are happily and more sanely able to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.

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