Navigating the Teen Years: It's Their Job to Drive Us Crazy

09/22/2010 07:39 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I'm suddenly finding myself in foreign and uncomfortable territory.

Overnight my daughter went from a happy-go-lucky, affectionate rule follower, to cynical, eye-rolling preteen. And my only line of defense is looking at her and thinking loudly in my head, "Who are you?"

Thus has been my warm and hardy welcome to the teen years.

Oh no you don't.

My first instinct was to push harder, get stricter, take away every coveted piece of clothing in her closet--to show her who's boss. Don't-mess-with-mama. Dammit.

But who does that best serve? Her... or me?

And what is my real job as a parent? To control my kids and try to make them turn out to be exactly who I want them to be--or wish I had been. (Now there's an ugly thought.) Or is it to help them grow into everything they can be, want to be, need to be? To become their best and most authentic self. To help them learn to survive and thrive in the real world.

Isn't it better to have her explore and try on new hats under my watchful and caring eye? We want kids who can ultimately think for themselves and negotiate situations ... kids who can give and take and understand that freedom comes with responsibility and compromise (which is ironic in a Jonathan Franzen sort of way). Yet when they test these budding skills under our roof, our knee jerk response is to snuff out this crucial aspect of development with more rules and loud words or even worse, emotional, weepy guilt trips. At best this leads to a war-filled home. At worst, it leads to a great divide with our kids at a time when they need us most.

So I caught myself. And realized that the super-strict but loving ways that worked up until this point were out the freegin' door. Which launched me further into foreign territory: Negotiating with my child. Negotiating? Grr...

A 7.3 on the balance beam

In the event some of you may be thinking this means that I've turned into a pushover--someone she can run all over in the interest of her free spirit and at great cost to the rest of the family--don't worry, because mom is smarter than that.

It's my job not only to set her free, but also to keep her safe. And thoughtful. And someone who contributes and doesn't just take. So there will definitely be some uncompromising limits, some high expectations and some ticked off moments on her part. Because we all know that meaningful freedom is earned. A lesson I'm still chewing on at 41.

A world of thanks to Dr. Michael Bradley, author of the must-read "Yes, Your Teen is Crazy." His book and his interview on my show was the glass of cold water in the face I needed as a parent. Shocking and funny.

Listen to a 2-minute snippet from my interview with Dr. Bradley:

Listen to the whole interview: