St. Edward’s University psychology professor Sara Villanueva wants you to know that the love/hate relationship you’re having with your teenager is completely normal. As is screaming at your child to get out of bed every morning. As is the eye rolls and grunts that are coming from his direction.
It’s all part of the journey toward adulthood. Those teenage years can be the most frustrating for parents, but they can also be the most rewarding. She has four children, ages 25, 20, 18 and 9.
“I wish someone had told me it was going to be really hard, but it would totally be OK,” she says. “That you’re going to appreciate all the fighting, and they are going to appreciate it one day.”
That’s what she tries to tell parents in her book “The Angst of Adolescence: How to Parent Your Teen (and Live to Laugh About It).” She will be at Barnes & Noble Sunset Valley on Sept. 20 to give parents even more insight into their teens.
She remembers her own teenage years. At one point her parents called her selfish. “I was so shocked,” she says. “It was out of nowhere. How could she think that?”
Now she realizes, that she was incredibly selfish and so are most teens. It’s part of this stage of development.
In the book, Villanueva explains some of what is going on physically in their brains that makes them want to sleep all day and stay up all night, but that also makes them now understand sarcasm and contemplate the way that they think.
She asks parents to embrace these years and to go into them with positive thoughts, but to also remember what their teenage years were like. Try to be empathetic, while remembering that their brains are not yet fully developed. All those missteps are helping them get there, though.
Most of the time, all those things that are irritating you — the attitude, the sluglike speed at which they move, the constant need to argue, the hair-pin turns of emotions — are not the things to be alarmed about. Instead, worry about depression, eating disorders and substance abuse. She goes through the signs related to these and how to get your child help.
Keeping the lines of communication open is important. Sometimes this is an age where they don’t want you to talk to them about sex or relationships. So you just leave flyers and pamphlets around. You eavesdrop on their conversations and then read up on what they were talking about, so you can later talk to them about it.
Holding the line about rules and expectations is also important. Because they are such good arguers, you have to face delivering consequences without emotion. It’s a “This was the rule. You broke the rule. Now this is what is going to happen” conversation.
As you get to the later part of high school, they need to be able to think their own thoughts, take care of their own needs and take responsibility for bad decisions, she says. You don’t want to be the parent who comes to the college professor to complain about a grade (and she and her colleagues have had lots of those parents). Instead, you want to know that you have set them up to be able to handle adversity and their obligations.
“You have to let them fall flat on their faces,” she says. She gives the example of the toddler who won’t tie their shoes. “If you are there to catch them every time, how are they going to know you have to tie your shoes.”
That might mean that every time they forget something for school, you don’t run home and bring it to them, as much as you want to be helpful. Or that kid who is making you late every morning has to find his own way to get to school.
Because kids can be completely different, you might need a different approach with each one. “It’s not a different set of rules, it’s a different approach. That makes your job even harder.”
And, in case you suspected it, the mother-daughter relationship is the most challenging.
“They are really going to push your buttons,” she says. “They may even say, ‘I don’t need you anymore.'”
Yet, somewhere at college or even into their 20s, you become the smartest person in the world and they do realize that they need you.
Villanueva says this new chapter in parenting — the parent of a college kid — was also a big shock for her. Her daughter Sophia, whom she writes about a lot in the book as the kid who pushed the most buttons, just left to go out of state to college, the first one to do so.
“It feels like a gaping hole in my chest,” she says. “It physically hurts, but I’m so unbelievably excited and happy for her.”
“The Angst of Adolescence: How to Parent Your Teen (and Live to Laugh About It)”
Book-signing and reading
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Barnes & Noble Sunset Valley, 5601 Brodie Lane, Suite 300.