Before I review the book, I firstly want to send a big shout out to Seana Smith who recommended the book to me. Seana is a Sydney based blogger and author who has four kids, two of which are teenagers. If you live in the Sydney area or plan to visit Sydney you really should check out her blog, Sydney Kids, Food + Travel, it is one of the best local sites you will find on things to do in Sydney with kids with posts like 50 best playgrounds in Sydney and 5 best Sydney harbour family nature walks.
Now to the book!
There are books you read that change your parenting life. In the toddler and younger years, the book for me was Children Are People Too: A Parent’s Guide to Younger Children’s Behaviour by Louise Porter. I have read quite a few books on parenting teenagers, but Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind by Michael J Bradley is the book that has changed my teenage parenting life.
If you have teenagers and have time to only read one book, I would highly recommend reading this. It isn’t an easy read. The first few chapters are quite daunting in terms of what you can (or perhaps are) expecting from a teenager. He literally tells you to buckle up and hang in for the ride and you need to, because it is also confronting in terms of showing how you are possibly getting it wrong as a parent right now.
Don’t read the book expecting to find strategies on how to change the teenager’s behaviour. The focus is squarely on the parents and how we can best communicate, interact with and parent our teenage kids.
Many of the things Bradley highlighted as not being successful strategies I was doing. I had to completely reassess my approach. I actually didn’t read this book but listened to the audiobook and I listened to it over and over again and I am will continue to go back to it on a regular basis. I also made sure my husband listened to it. A key takeaway from the book, is that parents need to be working together and if you don’t have the same knowledge and approach you can’t do that well.
This isn’t a book I would necessarily recommend reading well before you have a teenager. If I read this book even 3 – 4 years ago, I think I would have thought “my kids wouldn’t behave like that”. And while granted, my teenagers don’t behave in the way some of the teenagers do in the more extreme examples Bradley gives, I could certainly identify and relate to many examples he gives and this has surprised me.
Taking on the advice in this book has decreased the arguments with the teenagers and I am less drawn into their insanity. In the book Bradley quotes a friend who says that the craziness of teenagers is contagious and it can be if you let it.
As the kids have grown into teenagers, it is not always appropriate for me to share their stories on the blog. Teenagers protect their privacy fiercely and I need to respect that. So I will share three key learnings (there were many more, but these have helped me the most) which have helped me increase the harmony in the relationship with the teenagers:
1. Be the dispassionate cop
This is so powerful. Here is the Oxford Dictionary definition of dispassionate:
Definition of dispassionate in English:
Not influenced by strong emotion, and so able to be rational and impartial:
‘she dealt with life’s disasters in a calm, dispassionate way’
Previously when the teenagers would start to ramp up their emotion, I would find myself ramping up too. It was a terrible strategy. What should have been a discussion about their behaviour, would find its way to my behaviour, my tone, volume or remark.
Being the dispassionate cop, means I say what I need to say calmly and in a considered manner. I do not allow my emotions to spill over into the conversation. The focus stays on their behaviour and not mine. This can be incredibly hard at times, especially when they are giving you a verbal barrage and saying things that you know are not true, but it is really worth practicing and sticking to.
After a discussion with one of the kids where I have been able to remain the dispassionate cop, while the conversation may have not made me happy, I do feel a sense of accomplishment in how I handled the situation. But the best thing about using this strategy is how it minimises the impact on overall family harmony. The other kids can get upset by the teens behaviour and if I lose control too it is even more destabilising for the kids. If I can keep my emotions under control, I am role modelling the right behaviour not only for the teen, but for the other kids as well.
2. Don’t take it personally
This is so hard! In the first chapters of the book, Bradley explains what is happening in the teen brain and how this relates to their words and actions. He assures parents that teens really don’t mean what they say most of the time and are often even surprised at themselves in what they say and do. But with the brain still developing they are unable to communicate this and would just prefer it never happened, so tend to act that way after an outburst. The best thing I can do is to again role model appropriate behaviour; don’t take it personally and don’t hold a grudge.
Bradley says in the early stages of the book to be prepared to put foolish pride in the bin and I agree with him. In discussions which go wrong with the teens, I will think about them and look for what I could have done better. I will then find an appropriate time to communicate this to the teen, letting him know I am sorry for how things turned out and what I learnt. I don’t expect him to say sorry for his behaviour even if it was atrocious. It is about showing him I am learning, trying and wanting to keep communication open with him regardless of his last outburst.
3. Sometimes their realisation is enough
This took some time to get into my brain. Teens can cause you emotional pain and stress. When this happens it can be tempting to want them to have to feel something too, like the pain of being cut off from the internet for the weekend. But through the book I worked out that this is not always the best strategy.
If there is an incident and in the aftermath the teen can come to the realisation their behaviour was inappropriate, that is often enough. It is not about letting them get away with it, but if they can express in words of their own accord that they understand the repercussions of their behaviour, they have learnt from it. I don’t need to inflict further pain on them to make them realise it, that will only damage our relationship and move the focus away from his learning to the consequences I have invoked. Sometimes there will need to be more than words from the teens and I am trying where I can to allow the teenagers to come up with a consequence themselves, in those instances. So far they have been pretty spot on with what they have come up with.
Learning to look after a baby in the first few years of life provide a steep learning curve. I think parenting your first teenager is very much the same. It isn’t that the next teenager is necessarily easier, but as a parent I have grown in knowledge, confidence and learnt from my mistakes so cope with it better. Reading Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! has been a pivotal point in my parental learning.