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Why Your Teen Is Allergic to You

Posted: 01/03/11 09:56 AM ET

Brianna and her mother are standing in the kitchen.

"Mom, what? Why are you looking at me that way?"
"I'm wasn't looking at you any way. I'm just standing here."

Jeremy and his dad are getting dinner.

"Dad, Why is your hair like that"
"I don't know. I thought it was nice."
"Well, it isn't."

Brianna's mother probably thinks that her daughter hates her: "Whenever Brianna and I are in the same room, I can feel it -- It's like she just wishes I wasn't there. I'm an intrusion in her life. Everything about me, anything I say, just irritates her. I don't understand. It used to be just the opposite. All those really nice 'I love you, Mommy' notes she used to give me."

But this couldn't be further from the truth.

It won't show up on blood tests, but the great majority of teenagers are allergic to their parents.

It's actually part of normal psychological development. Once teens reach adolescence, they need to feel independent. But, deep inside, they still have strong love and attachment feelings toward their parents. Unfortunately, that only reminds them they're still kids -- that they're ultimately still tied to their families. As a result, a parent's mere presence often stirs up a host of uncomfortable emotions in a teen.

It's important for parents to understand that the allergy isn't really personal. It's not about you. It's simply part of parenting a teen.

Boys and girls tend to express the allergy differently. Boys tend to withdraw. They like to isolate themselves:

"Dad, do you have to stand so close to me?"

"I think I'll go upstairs and play video games."

Girls, on the other hand, tend to declare their independence in your face:

"You're ruining my life. I hate you and I'm not just saying it. I really do."

There is good news, though. Underneath, the love connection is still there. And, as adolescence runs its course -- as your teen truly becomes independent - the allergy fades.

"You look nice, Mom."
"What?"
"You look nice."

Not only do they change, but this nicer, more mature version of them has actually been there all along. You just didn't see it. Just look at the ways in which they interact with other people.

"You must be so proud of Brianna. Such a nice, polite and thoughtful young lady."
"So proud? My Brianna?"

It is important to understand that the allergy is both temporary and universal. But there is a big mistake that parents often make in the face of a surly teenager. They try too hard to change them.

"Jeremy, do you understand how unpleasant you are to live with? I should make a video of you around the house."
"I should make a video of YOU."
"I'm serious, young man. You are going to have to watch it."
"You're going to have to watch it."

Trying too hard to change them can get very frustrating, and almost always only escalates to bigger parent and child nastiness.

The answer is quite simple, really: If they are being unpleasant, you don't have to be around them.

If you feel you have to say something, say it, but swiftly. Disengage -- fast. Because your teen will not.

"I really don't enjoy it when you act unpleasantly like this."
"I'm not acting unpleasantly. You're acting unpleasantly. And besides I wouldn't act like this if your rules weren't so stupid and unfair."

You don't need to get into it any further. Having said your piece, you need to exit.
Adolescence is very real. It's not the product of something that you did wrong. It's not a sign that your child is disastrously screwed up.

It's important to understand this because it can make a big difference in your day-to-day interactions with your teen.

Rather than "Look at how she behaves. What have I created? I have to do something before it's too late."

Maybe more like: "This certainly isn't fun. I sure hope it's a stage like they say. I think I'll go into the other room."

And miracles do happen. Teens change.

"I don't know how you ever put up with me," Brianna will say to her mother five years later.