Teen Hormones Hijack: Smug Parents Watch Out!

Sour expression on a very grumpy kid.
Sour expression on a very grumpy kid.

It all went so badly wrong when I booked a family day out. A fun day, the kind of thing that, only months ago, my teenage son would have been begging to do. But this time, upon sharing the good news I was met with an outraged "No way. Why would I wanna do that?".

He's CHANGED and doesn't do that stuff anymore, he tells me. I have, apparently, shown extreme dereliction of duty for not noticing (how did I not notice? Was I asleep?).

In his eyes I am, it soon becomes obvious, the epitome of a terrible mother.

And yet it seems like only yesterday that I was the epitome of an incredibly smug mother, secretly relishing other mums' horror stories of their teens' bad behaviour, secure in the knowledge that whatever else happened, mine would never be as rude, stroppy and argumentative as everyone else's teenage son.

Except of course now that's exactly what he is, at least half the time. Harry Enfield's Kevin in all his sneery, self-righteous glory.


Hang on. This shouldn't be happening to me, a so-called teen 'expert' who's edited magazines and written books aimed at people my son's age. Because hey, I know what he's going through and I've been there. I remember what it's like to think your parents are idiots who seem hell-bent on making you miserable. What's more I've worked hard on my Fun Mum credentials. I've both read and seen The Hunger Games! I even like (some of) the same music as him!


But hormones and nature are, of course having none of it, and that's exactly the way it should be. The surge of testosterone that hits a boy's system aged 14 means he can become downright unreasonable, argumentative and more than a little bit contrary.

Basically, whatever you do is wrong because you are his parent. End of.

Steering a path through this is incredibly hard, but it's pointless taking it personally.

Teenagers – both the male and female version - give attitude because they think it's what the role requires. It's all about proving that they're separate from you and that you don't control everything about them - and mouthing off gets them some kind of imagined respect.

The sneering sarcasm, the lofty cynicism, the "yeah, whatever"s can be infuriating and upsetting to parents, especially as it's gratuitous and seemingly spiteful.

Sometimes it's the hardest thing ever, when you've had a bad day and aren't in the best frame of mind, to stop yourself rising to it. An angry six-footer basically venting that you're repulsive can sting, but yelling only makes your teen resent you while you feel bad about yourself for hours afterwards. I can vouch for that.

But what's going on underneath? Sometimes teens give attitude and sneer when they feel insecure. Gill Hines and Alison Bavistock in their book Whatever say: "Negative talk can be a cloak to wrap oneself up in to feel part of the crowd, but it doesn't necessarily reveal true feelings".

During this stroppy phase teenagers are faced with a lot of emotional issues based on their identity, relationships, role in life and fear of the future, and suddenly they seem to hate everything, especially you – hence finding yourself at the receiving end of some vicious rages and withering sarcasm.

Your home life and values may be challenged, especially any rules they have to abide by. Their anger is part of what fuels them to break away and create an independent life for themselves. Tis the natural order of things.

The trick (I'm told) is to listen to their criticism without interrupting, offering neither advice nor comment while they're talking. This is harder than it sounds, but stick with it as it allows your teen to let off some steam and reduces the tension.

Ask what solutions they have come up with themselves, showing that you respect their judgement, and add some solutions of your own. By remaining calm, not shouting or using put-downs, and not raising past problems, you show your teen that you're being reasonable and worthy of his respect. I have tried this and it actually works.

Keeping some lines of communication open is crucial, however bad things may become, so try and have a shared activity for just the two of you, allowing for stop-offs for a coffee and chat. Or address tricky issues while in the car – the ultimate venue for difficult conversations as it's non-confrontational. You're not even facing each other.

And if you're doing smugface while you read this, just remember – we all do that until the day we get hit with the full force of a teen strop. It will happen to you too. And it ain't pretty.