For many parents, the change happens seemingly overnight. One day, you’re living with a sweet, lovable tween who likes Hilary Duff, the next you’re trying to figure out who the moody, self-ruling teenager in your home is.
Suddenly, early childhood issues like 3 a.m. feedings, grocery store temper tantrums and agonizing first days of school don’t seem so bad.
For Paul Hubbard, the day he realized his role as a parent was changing was the day his oldest son David, now 19, turned 16 and got a driver’s license, a new car and new freedoms.
"Their world explodes with opportunities to spend their time," said Hubbard, a Phoenix resident who leads seminars for Parenting Teenagers (www.parentingteenagers.com). "Parents, as much as they want to think they’re prepared for that, aren’t."
But local experts say adolescence — a word that can strike fear into even the most conscientious moms and dads — has a bad rap.
"It isn’t as bad as the popular myth would have us believe it is," said Mary Doyle, coordinator of the Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic at Arizona State University. "They’re more likely to have conflict with their peers than their parents."
Even so, the years between ages 13 and 19 — when a young person is trying to figure out his place in the world — is a period of great transition for families. The parent-child relationship begins to shift. Power struggles increase. Family values are challenged.
For parents, the key to survival is knowing what (or, rather, who) you’re dealing with and realizing it’s normal for this age group to experiment with new ideas and values.
"Teenagers are very similar to preschoolers," said Peggy Seen, parent education specialist at the Mesa Unified School District’s Parent University. "Both of those stages are addressing power and identity. But, of course, the teens are doing it in a more sophisticated way.
"It’s extremely scary. They have a lot of autonomy but they don’t have the wherewithal to handle it."
As a result, parents often take the brunt of a teenager’s frustrations but, at the same time, might also be the last people a teenager wants to get advice from.
Kathleen Buntin, a facilitator for Parent University who works with parents during the organization’s Families in Action class, recommends parents familiarize themselves with what is developmentally normal so that these new attitudes (often blamed on "teenage angst") don’t come as a shock. Doing so will also help moms and dads recognize red flags in behavior that might be signs of more serious problems. Information about what to expect as your teenager makes the transition into adulthood can be found on the Internet, in books and at parenting seminars.
"If you can understand what kids are normally doing at that age and there is love and support with clear expectations, then it’s not quite as traumatic," Buntin said.
Next step: Take a deep breath and remember that, like most life stages, this too shall pass.
"They’ll grow out of it and come back to realize you’re pretty smart," Doyle said. "Just be patient."
Take a class
Phoenix residents Paul and Mindy Hubbard offer parenting classes to area schools, churches and other groups through Parenting Teenagers, a faith-based organization in New Mexico. For more information, visit