(This article runs in the Press Democrat on June 29, 2012)
On a recent evening, I took my daughter, DQ, to the store to go shopping for some clothes and jewelry she wanted for a special occasion. We not only looked for what she needed, but had fun going through the different aisles trying on scarves and making fun of gaudy rings. It was an inexpensive way to get in some mother-daughter time – until we got to the checkout. We both knew I ended up spending too much money on her, and she was extremely gracious about all her new pretty things I bought for her. So I was caught off guard when the very next day she was blasting me via text about how uncool I was over a household rule I wouldn’t bend on, and how I always treated her like a baby. We closed the conversation and ended up not speaking to each other for the rest of the day.
The following day she helped me put dishes away, finished her chores early, and then hung out with me all afternoon. But that night at dinner she sassed back anyone who had the audacity to speak to her, making it clear that we were all idiots, and appalled when we required her to help out with cleaning up after dinner. A mere 30 minutes later, she was lacing up her shoes to join me on a run around our neighborhood. When we got home, she cracked jokes with her stepdad. But when he joked back, she whipped around and snapped at him.
We are officially in the Jekyll & Hyde years, that lovely age when darling daughters turn into exceptionally moody beings that are sweet as pie one second, and then turn into raving monsters the next. Sometimes there’s a buildup to the actual explosion, giving you some time to duck and take cover. But mostly it’s without warning, the scene changing from serene to volatile in the blink of an eye.
“One minute you still have your sweet girl, the next minute she’s back talking and slamming her door. Never really know which one you’re dealing with,” Carley Harp of Rohnert Park said about teenage girls around age 14.
One mom I know was astounded when she discovered that her daughter had a secret Facebook for her friends, and a more innocent one she kept for all her family. Another mom stated that her daughter had recently stopped speaking altogether to her parents, her only form of communication done by rapidly moving fingers over the keyboard of her phone.
Having worked with teenagers for years at a summer camp our family attends, I have witnessed girls around my daughter’s age who are incredibly mature in their responsibilities. But get them around their parents, these same girls are suddenly spewing venom and hatred. And have you ever witnessed a Facebook newsfeed filled with hormonal teenage girls? Emotions create an avalanche of ups and downs, ranging from exaggerated excitedness to depressed song lyrics and cryptic codes begging for others to ask “what’s wrong”.
“My girl was sweet, calm and gentle up until puberty,” Caren McLerran of Santa Rosa said about her own now-adult daughter. “Then wham, she changed into a secretive, defiant person that I didn’t know.” But she offered hope to parents going through the same thing with their daughters, having observed her own daughter coming back to her senses around age 18. “Let’s just say that the caterpillar stage of a girl’s life is hell, eating her way through the feelings of everyone around her. But as she emerges from her rather toxic chrysalis she has once again returned to her beautiful butterfly-self.
The fact of the matter is that girls around age 13-15 are going through a huge shift in how they view their bodies, what it takes for boys to be interested in them, the pressure of popularity and fitting in, and the hormonal and physical changes going on inside and outside their bodies. According to statistics, 50% of young teenage girls view themselves as fat, and 80% have dieted in some form or another (visit anad.org and eatingdisorders411.com for more statistics on teens and body image). Peer pressure, whether it be drugs, sex, or any other pressure of “going with the flow”, are the strongest in the early teen years. And this is the age when teens begin to make real adult decisions that could impact the rest of their lives.
So how do you deal with the fragile temperament of these cantankerous cherubs? There is no cookie cutter answer. The best you can do is try to remember what it was like when you were a teenager, and have empathy for what your daughter is going through. And whenever she’s on the sweet side of her Jekyll & Hyde mentality, savor it for all its worth.