Coping with your child’s food allergies is complicated enough, but parenting a teenager who is discovering his or her independence changes the parenting dynamic completely.
Parent: “You left your epinephrine auto-injectors home last night when you went out. This is life-saving medication. What were you thinking? It must be with you at all times!”
Teenager: “Mom, you are absolutely right. Thanks for talking with me. I wasn’t clear on the importance of always carrying epinephrine, but now I get it. This will never happen again.” Said no teen ever!
If you’re a parent of a teenager, you know you can’t get through to them in the ways that you could back when they were a reasonably compliant child. You may wonder if you’re the one doing something wrong. It may seem like your teen talks back, argues and sulks more than you ever dreamed of doing when you were growing up. What’s happening?
First, there is a big difference in how we parent today. Parents (thankfully) no longer discipline with physical punishment. For those of us of a certain age, the fear held over our heads was a strong motivation for us to comply with our parents’ wishes. Today’s kids don’t know that fear.
Secondly, during adolescence teenagers are beginning the process of separating from mom and dad. They seek independence. They focus on the ways that they are different from us as their friends take on a more important role in their lives.
The good news is that we can still influence our kids. However, with teenagers, you will need to adjust how and when you communicate.
Connect in a positive way
Some teens can’t walk into a room without being asked to do something or having their parents criticize them. I catch myself doing this all of the time.
Parent: “Are you ever going to put those jeans in the wash?” Or, “You need a haircut.” Or, “Did you empty the dishwasher?”
Not fun. Look for something your teenager is doing right. Or better yet, find something to do together, even if it’s taking her clothes shopping or dropping him at a friend’s house. Commit to having certain encounters where you focus on the positive.
Don’t lecture or argue
Your teen knows how you want him to manage his food allergies. Still, you should expect that he will never be 100 percent compliant, as nerve-racking as that may be. If a rule is broken, reinforce it, but lecturing may make your teen angry or check out.
Parent: “You need to take a sandwich to Jesse’s house.”
Teenager: “Nah, I just won’t eat there.” (A secret invitation to argue.)
Parent: (Tempted to lecture but instead repeats the command.) “You need to take a sandwich to Jesse’s house.”
Teenager: “Ugh, you’re such a pain!” (Makes sandwich.)
Wait for the window
Don’t chase after your teen to communicate. Be like a lighthouse – a stable touchpoint they can come to when needed. When your teen approaches you to talk, be receptive. No matter if you’re on your way to an office emergency or a meeting with the Pope, take a breath and really listen.
Teenager: “I saw my old girlfriend Nina at the park yesterday.”
Parent: (Needing to be at the airport in 45 minutes but calmly replying.) “Oh yeah? What was that like?”
There will be times when you need to enforce an unbreakable rule. In other areas, it’s wise to cut a teen some slack.
Parent: “You need to take your backpack to the school picnic.”
Teenager: “That’s insane! I can’t take a backpack to a picnic. I’ll look like a dork.”
Parent: “Well, you need to bring your epinephrine. I saw these small slings at the mall. What about something like this?”
Also, don’t get caught up in the letter of the law if a teen is following the spirit of the law.
Parent: “I made safe brownies you can take to the party.”
Teenager: “I have Skittles in my bag.”
Parent: “Great!” (Biting down hard on tongue.)
When things get ugly, and they can with teens, get out the childhood photos and drawings from preschool. Connect to that little guy or girl from many years ago. The tougher times will pass and that innocent soul is still in there, trying to find a way to adulthood. No matter how much your teen rebels against your rules, questions your judgment, or even denies your existence, they’ll never doubt your love.
First published in Allergic Living magazine; learn about the e-magazine here.