North County Outlook - Community newspaper serving Marysville, Arlington, Tulalip, Smokey Point, Lakewood

By Penny Davis M.F.A.
Positive Parenting 

The teen years: What happened to my child?



I am a single mother with a 14-year-old daughter. For the past several months, she has been difficult to live with. Her attitude towards me often feels disrespectful (rolling her eyes, arguing with me about simple requests, etc.) and getting her to do chores is almost impossible. Her friends’ parents tell me that she is a joy when she’s with them – cheerful, polite, responsible. What am I doing wrong, and why don’t I ever see this side of her?


I hear your frustration, and having been through the teen years with two daughters of my own (also as a single parent), I remember it well. You are not doing anything wrong – hang in there. Adolescence is challenging – for parents and for the teens going through it.

First, it’s important to understand that, developmentally, teens are preparing for adulthood, and separating from parents is part of this. For the first time, they are beginning to see parents as real people rather than ‘heroes’ who can do no wrong – they see our flaws and mistakes (which often surfaces as the eye-rolling, and disbelief at something we’ve said or done). According to Dan Siegel, in his book ‘Brainstorm,’ perhaps seeing parents this way allows teens to leave us and go out into the world.

During the past decade our knowledge about the brain has exploded, and research now tells us that the teen brain is very different from the adult brain. It’s not ‘hormones’ that result in the changes we see in our young people – it’s their brain that’s changing in preparation for adulthood.

So, what I’m saying is that your daughter’s behavior is pretty normal. The fact that she is respectful, polite, etc. with others tells me that you have taught her well…she knows how to ‘be’ in the world. She tries out the ‘attitude’ with you, because she knows you love her unconditionally, so she feels safe doing so.

Does that mean you have to accept it? Absolutely not…but it does mean you should pick your battles. Teens are all about learning to control their world. The best hope we have is to encourage their cooperation – it cannot be demanded.

My suggestion might be to invite your daughter to have a calm, respectful conversation with you. Talk with her about how you are feeling, be curious about what’s going on with her, and see if the two of you can come to an agreement about how to make your relationship with each other more respectful. If one or both of you get angry, or begin blaming, stop the conversation by saying “It seems that we can’t talk calmly about this now, so let’s take a break and get together again when we both feel better.”

The goal is to re-engage with her. If it goes well, you can also discuss the chores by asking for her thoughts…are there too many chores, might she want to do some/all at a different time than in the past, do you have unrealistic expectations of her? It’s very important for teens to feel that they have a voice and that we will listen.

When my eldest daughter was about 15, I realized a large percentage of our communication was me nagging her, reminding her, and being angry about the condition of her room. It was affecting our relationship. I decided that I had to let go of my expectation that her room would be neat and tidy ALL the time. In exchange she agreed to clean it once a week, and when it got messier than I was comfortable with, she would keep the door closed, and I wouldn’t go in. It worked for us…sometimes she even cleaned twice a week!

My other suggestion is to spend some special time with your daughter on a regular basis. Make a date with her. Spend these times just enjoying her company and discovering who this young woman is becoming.

If you are interested in reading more, I would suggest ‘Positive Discipline for Teenagers’ by Jane Nelsen, EdD, and Lynn Lott, M.A, as well as ‘Brainstorm’ by Dan Siegel, MD.

I wish you well.

Penny Davis, M.A

Respectful Relationships Consulting


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