As a mom, I'm generally confident handling childhood hurdles--potty-training, picky eaters, night frights--bring 'em on. There's one issue that shakes my equanimity--teen relationship drama. Whether they're boyfriend-girlfriend connections or same-gender friendships, teenage relationships are often fraught with drama and drenched in anxiety. Frankly, I rather beard a lion in its den than deal with drama. Even the term sets my teeth on edge. Disagreeable as they are, relationship problems are part of life. After four kids (and a lot of trial and error), I've assembled some thoughts for parents on helping kids navigate peer relationships.
* Understand where it's coming from. Common sense, boundary-setting, healthy self-image and limit switches (essential ingredients for good relationships) are still under construction in childhood. Enter in the hormonal and developmental changes of puberty and even seemingly-mature kids regress emotionally and socially. To cope, teens go back to immature, but safer, behavior patterns. In relationships this manifests as jealousy, theatrics, paranoia, competitiveness and fighting.
* Both genders struggle. There's a misnomer that relationship drama is the prerogative of teen girls. That may have been true in times past, but that's because we didn't understand teens as well. Girls, we mistakenly thought were more introspective and emotional. We communicated gender stereotypes to our kids. Girls learned to overemphasize feelings and boys learned to stifle emotions. Now we encourage both genders to explore and express feelings. Consequently, for better or worse, boys are now riding the relationship roller coaster more often.
* Digital communication exacerbates it. Social networking and cellphones are responsible for a big chunk of relationship drama (and not just with teens). When I was a kid, I could spend maybe one hour per day on the phone. I had to be off by 9:30 p.m. Now, with unlimited internet, texting and cellphone usage, kids can access each other 24-7. We spend far more time interfacing than we used to. More time spent means more opportunity for misunderstanding and communication problems. It also gives hurtful people more chance to be hurtful.
* Proactive preparation. Puberty is a necessary rite of passage as are the associated bumpy relationships. You can't avoid the ride, but you can do things to keep yourself and your kids safe. Tend to your own emotional health needs. Get to know other kids' parents. Model positive relationship behaviors. Make time to listen when your teen needs to vent. Don't let her use friend drama as an excuse to be rude or misbehave. Enforce restrictions on social time. Don't get involved in quarrels, but be your child's ally. Encourage friendships that exhibit healthy behavior and discourage those that are toxic. Teach teens how to protect themselves from dangerous friendships.
Most of all, know that this too shall pass. Be sure to tell your kids that, too. They may not believe it at first, but when they do, it's very comforting.