Learning to Parent a Teen: Stage 1, Managing Stress

So far, I think the three to six months stage of childhood is still my favorite. The boys slept through the night by then and smiled by day. That’s it. Pee, poop, eat, snuggle, sleep….repeat.  Then they grow taller and bigger and much bigger until they tower over you at 6 feet and laugh that you “look old” when you sit on the love seat to read a book.

Now the eldest is fourteen and the world has changed significantly. The “development” books tell you that kids this age look to their peers more than their parents, but none of the books I read have any section on “kids become completely immersed in their digital connection with other kids until their parents become irrelevant and nonexistent.”

And none of the books addressed how to help kids understand that they are woefully lacking in their medical knowledge. That the other teens with whom they communicate regularly are also lacking in medical knowledge. And that answering “It’s fine” every time your mother asks, “How’s your foot?” is just not adequate when she finally sees that the foot does not in fact look FINE to her (you know, the pediatrician!).

Super Tall Guy got a splinter in his right foot at least 2 weeks ago. He’s been “fine.”  He does not, in fact, want to go to the doctor, much less leave the house. He does not need anything for it. He does not have a problem walking. And, he definitely does not want to go get the splinter out the evening that I was entirely free of meetings or boys’ sports. But when I woke him up for school the next morning and he rolled over and said, “Can you take me to the doctor?” I immediately in my mind rearranged what I thought the day would hold….and off we went. Because if his brain has finally opened up a little mental space to push himself out of his comfort zone, that’s the window I need to grab.

Four hours later, a one-centimeter sliver of wood literally sprang out of his foot with some pressure. Too embarrassed for crutches, Super Tall Guy hobbled out of the emergency room and proclaimed himself unable to walk for two days.

For a teen with social anxiety, this pandemic ever-shifting landscape has been the complete opposite of his craving for consistency. The ever-shifting in-person learning versus remote learning has thrown off his ability to focus. I track the school attendance on a separate calendar and have noticed that this 8th grader has not been in school for five days in a row for the past month. And some of that is him either texting me in the middle of the night (my phone on “do not disturb” and I find texts in the morning) or waking up with “I don’t feel good” complaints that prohibit school.  Vague symptoms. Odd symptoms. Could it be COVID symptoms? Could it be, as I told him one day, “You know, when you are stressed sometimes your body can feel sick or not right.”  “Well, I don’t want to be stressed,” was his reply. Clearly you are, though, buddy.

Purple bars are days at least one kid has not been in school! Each has had a quarantine. Both school buildings have closed for two days. Boys have been “sick.” Blue dot – Me home CELEBRATING!

Clearly the household has been under quite a bit of stress. We are all dealing with the stress in very different ways. I have writing out my irritations and my jigsaw puzzles. The younger boys run around outside with the neighbor boys and consume too much screen time and food! The teen seems to be centering it in his body. The six-year old dog sleeps all day. 

The puppy? Well, the puppy accidentally locks herself into the teen’s room after apparently following sweet-to-dog smells….panics that she can’t get out and proceeds to destroy the door!!!

And you would have thought she learned after she probably spent four hours freaked out in the room….but no, two days later as I took the boys to school, she went in there again! This time, the carpet was her nemesis. On the other hand, perhaps it is I who should have learned about puppies and stress….

Guess I have new plans for the weekend – let’s see how that hard wood floor looks under that teen-stained, dog-destroyed carpet!!

PS, the photo is so blue because apparently teens can only sleep, breathe, exist in LED lighting. Who knew?

Learning to parent teens….one day at a time….

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