What Happened to My Little Angel?

by Terri Fedonczak

We’ve all been there: the rolling eyes that signal annoyance, the room that looks like a bomb went off, the way they are glued to anything with a backlit screen. What happened to your little angel? Remember when she couldn’t wait to see you and give you a big, sticky hug? Why won’t she talk to you in sentences that don’t end with a sigh? All of these situations are completely normal, and there’s nothing wrong with her—or you.

The teenage years don’t come with a parent manual, but there are a few tips that make things go smoother:

When your daughter rolls her eyes, it’s not bad. It’s the way you perceive it that gives the notion a negative attribute. If you think eye rolls are disrespectful and a reflection of how much more you need to “crack the whip,” you may be misinterpreting. Teenagers often roll their eyes at their friends, too. It’s a way of stepping into their own power; they are choosing what to believe and what not to believe, which can be a great thing. You don’t want your daughter to take everything at face value. For example, you don’t want them to follow some cute player down a path just because he spins a pretty line. Let her question, critique and come up with her own moral path, based upon your core family values. If the eye rolling bugs you, figure out why. Where are you exhibiting the same traits? If you don’t think she respects you, where are you not respecting yourself?

If their messy room is bothersome, I suggest you close the door. Do you really want to have multiple exchanges with your teen about where their cleanliness doesn’t fit your standards? The teen years are when your child molds their own version of right and wrong. My daughter’s messy room bugged me simply because I feel better when things are organized; it allows me to focus easier. Since I wanted the best for my daughter, I used to harp on how much a messy space would mess with her mojo. I would suggest, hint and cajole, then clean the room myself and yell at her for being irresponsible. What a waste of energy. It is much better to remain as an influence (not a coercion) and let consequences teach the lesson. When she can’t find something important, she will make the effort to organize or not. It’s her choice.

Her attachment to screens is a way to find her Pride (her support group, in lioness parlance). That doesn’t mean that you can’t set limits. If your family values are built around spending time together, then no cell phones at the dinner table. That means you, too, Mom! If your daughter is tired and unfocused, then no cell phones after 9 p.m. (or whatever time fits your teen’s schedule), so she can get to sleep without screen stimulation before bed. Restricting social media during homework time is an effective way to teach priority. Base your rules on family values, be specific about the restrictions and the reasoning behind them, punish infractions in a way that feels good to you, and then let it go.

Your “baby girl” is still in there, and she will come back. The less you put pressure on the situation, the faster that will happen. Use the space she’s giving you as a gift of time to spend on self-care instead of worrying about your lack of time spent together.

Having positive responses to situations is crucial to build your teen’s trust. Two phrases that teens respond well to are Everything will be okay and How can I help? Say the former often, and let the latter be an invitation, not a mandate.

Being goofy and making your teen laugh will lead to a more pleasant connection than any other tactic based upon parenting columns or your Aunt Sadie’s advice. It allows you to relate to them on a level that they don’t innately associate with their parent; it’s important to show them that you’re more than an enforcement figure.

All of these tips have worked beautifully for me when I remember to take a deep breath and use them. Most of all, just love them. Tell them every day how lucky you are to be their parent. They are perfect just as they are—with or without sticky kisses.

Terri Fedonczak is fluent in parenting advice and is the author of Field Guide to Plugged-In Parenting…Even If You Were Raised by Wolves.