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Sunday, 25 March 2001

When Your Teenager Turns Into a Stranger

Written by  Sheryl Wachsman Prenzlau

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It was almost as if a monster had moved in with us.

Overnight, our sweet 14 year old daughter changed from a friendly, loving member of the family into a terrifying stranger. It was like living with Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde.

She refused to talk to us anymore, she dressed in torn rags that even a trashman wouldn't bother hauling to the dump and styled her hair into crazy designs. Everything we said to her was met with a slammed door, an angry sneer, and a turned up nose.

Things really started to improve at home when we stopped letting her set the whole tempo for the house, and when we stopped criticizing her and trying to force her to do things our way.

I used to be able to talk with her easily, and we had always loved going shopping together and spending time with each other. We'd been good friends for years. But suddenly, Danielle wouldn't even look at me, and preferred the telephone and that ear-splitting noise to anyone in her own family. It was like living with a stranger- if you could call that living!

The only time she emitted a civil word, was when she needed something from us - some money, a lift somewhere, or to borrow something of mine. And I could no more expect to get whatever it was back in one piece then I could expect to find dollar bills growing outside on our apple tree.

Like I said, sometime in the middle of the night, a monster came and kidnapped our Danielle and decided to take her place. My husband, Tony, was pretty good about it. Mostly, he just ignored her. But I couldn't do that. God knows, I tried. But watching her just ate me up alive. I was horrified when company came over and saw the way she was dressed, and how she acted. I would watch their raised eyebrows and almost hear their disapproving thoughts out loud.

The tension in our house was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. As soon as I'd say anything to her, we always ended up in a screaming fight. And even though I usually had the last word, what good was it if I was yelling it at a closed door?

Sometimes I dreamt about running away. Me, not her. I just couldn't take it anymore. My younger kids learned how to disappear as soon as Dani came home, like scared little mice. But I couldn't stand how the whole house revolved around her sullen moods. She had no right to do it to all of us! I wanted to stop it, but I didn't know how.

At first, I tried to befriend her and be her pal like in the old days, but she just glared at me with such disgust and hatred in her eyes, that I wanted to slap her face!

Obviously, that wouldn't have accomplished anything and probably would have made things a lot more unbearable. Besides, we don't believe in hitting our kids.

I had to come up with some other solution. I asked some of my friends, but they all seemed to be having the same types of problems with their own teenagers. At least I saw we weren't alone in this. No one knew what to do.

I asked my pediatrician. He said there's nothing much I could do except to be patient and eventually it would pass and we would get our daughter back the way she used to be... in about five years! Easy for him to say! He didn't have to live with her! I couldn't take much more of her turning our whole household upside down every time she was in a mood.

Finally, I stayed up one Saturday night thinking about all this. At around five o'clock in the morning, I came to a decision. I realized that I'd rather have a relationship with my daughter on any terms than lose her. By trying to force her into doing the things I wanted and becoming the kind of person I wanted her to be, I was turning her away from us. From now on, I decided that I wouldn't say anything more about her hairstyle or clothing, no matter how appalled I was. She was just trying her wings, struggling with her identity, or whatever nice terms they use these days to describe this behavior.

The next day I read an article in one of my magazines that gave me another pointer. It said that the key to living with a teenager was to imagine that you are riding on a wave, sort of going with the flow -up with the wave as it rides into shore, and then relaxing and letting it pull you back with the tide. This article also said that we should consider adolescence something like "temporary insanity."

That same day, I began to put all of this into practice. If I started the day out in a good mood, and then Danielle came out of her room all sour-faced and grumpy, I would just smile at her but not try to cheer her up or find out what was bothering her. I had finally realized that trying to affect her mood in any way just served to make her more grouchy and belligerent. My new plan of action was basically just to be myself and not try to criticize or change her, not try to pry into what was bugging her.

The first time I did this, I think I shocked her. She was all ready for an onslaught - almost like having her boxing gloves primed for the fight! When I didn't react the way she had expected, she couldn't figure me out!

But that wasn't all.

A few minutes later, when she saw that I hadn't made any comments about what she was wearing, she let down her guard and dropped the snarly face. She even changed her clothes before she went out. And I hadn't said a thing about them!

Later that day, when she seemed normal, almost as if the old Dani had slipped back home for a quick visit, I went back to my old roles too. I let her see that If she wanted to confide in me, I'd be there for her, with open ear, like in the old days. And surprisingly, over the next few days, we began to have some good times again.

I think the trick was for me to learn to sort of forget that she had been screaming and slamming doors only half an hour earlier, if she now appeared to be her old sweet and friendly self. That was what they meant by riding the waves -- up and down with the flow. I had to stop trying to figure out what I had done to upset her, since her mood swings usually had nothing at all to do with me. I had to stop blaming myself. Sometimes I felt like I was on a roller costar, driving fast but smoothly, and then suddenly hitting a sharp turn, never knowing what was waiting just around the next bend.

It was almost like dealing with two different people - even if both of these showed up within minutes of each other! I finally realized that this was normal for her age. The younger kids saw that things between us had calmed down, and they began to change the way they acted with her, too.

Things really started to improve at home when we stopped letting her set the whole tempo for the house and when we stopped criticizing her and trying to force her to do things our way.

If she wanted to spend the morning in her room with the door shut and the music blaring, then so be it. No one would stop her anymore. But we wouldn't walk around on tiptoes either. When she'd finally come out, we would sort of test the waters and kind of ignore her until she would make the first move to include herself.

Most of the time, our new attitude really worked for us. I think she became more friendly and open when she realized we weren't at war. No one was planning ways to sabotage her, no one was trying to change her or mold her into their own image. Maybe at one time we had been guilty of some of this. But no more.

When we finally loosened up, so did she. There were still ups and downs and occasional blowouts, but all in all, there was great improvement. We could all breathe again in our own house, without developing high blood pressure every time we saw her. Danielle had "come home"... if not to stay, then at least for a visit. We were a family again.


Last modified on Sunday, 30 October 2011 12:39
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Sheryl Wachsman Prenzlau

Sheryl Wachsman Prenzlau

Sheryl Wachsman Prenzlau has written a number of works of fiction for WholeFamily.com under pseudonyms and she contributed to the first chapter of the original online version of The Affair. She says, "I draw not on my personal family experience in my writing, but from my observations of real life situations." Sheryl graduated from Queens College in NY with a BA in Psychology. She has edited an anthology of children's stories and published many children's books, including a five-part series, Bible Stories for Children. Sheryl has written first person stories for newspapers and magazines. She is married, the mother of two and the proud grandmother of a beautiful baby girl.

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