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Source: Toronto Globe and Mail

“No, Samantha you can’t go to the sleepover at Maya’s house.”

“But, Mom, you can’t say that. You haven’t given me one good reason why I shouldn’t go. Mom!”

The discussion, which had already been going on for 10 minutes, continued for another 15, with escalating anger on both sides. Samantha’s mother, however, stood firm. The discussion finally ended with Samantha in tears, screaming at her mother,
“I hate you. I wish I had any other mother but you. You’re the worst mother in the world. You never should have had children.”

Samantha then stormed to her room where she called her good friend Alexa, to whom she described in detail what a terrible mother she had. She then went on her computer, checked out her messages and about an hour after that came down to the TV room where her mother was still sitting in shock.

“What’s for supper?”

“What?”

“What’s for supper?”

“Samantha, how can you ask me that after what you just said to me?”

“Oh, that stuff. I was mad at you then, but I’m not mad at you now.”

How can Samantha say such hurtful words, and then seemingly think nothing of it?

We ask Samantha, “Do you really believe all those terrible things you said to your mother? Don’t you think it’s really wrong to say things like that.”

“Yeah, I guess. But I don’t mean it. I just said it then because I was mad. She knows I don’t mean it.”

They are genuinely surprised when it turns out that the words do not bounce off their parents the way they think they do. Kids feel that in some way what they say at home, especially to a family member, just does not count, does not hurt in the same way that it would were it said on the outside.

Also, Samantha says things like that because she knows that she can, that she’s not going to get smacked or kicked out of the house. Teenagers of the past did not say these kinds of things to their parents, but not because those teens were more considerate than today’s teens. Not at all. They didn’t say those things, because they were afraid to. They were afraid that they would get smacked or worse – which they would have. In some ways, Samantha was following the dictates of what all kids are taught in pre-school as the acceptable alternative to hitting, to physical expressions of anger: “Use your words.”

Also there is another reality that applies to a great many scenarios like the one described here. If the parent has been a more or less nice parent, then despite their hateful words, the odds are that this same child – who said their parent was such a bad parent, that they never should have had children – will, in not too many years, see them as having been a good parent and will even say, “I don’t know how you put up with me sometimes. I was really pretty awful.”

They really do, in their young adulthood, or even by the end of adolescence, view their parents in this very different light.

So what should Samantha’s mother do?

A simple statement.

“Samantha what you said to me really hurt my feelings. I know you were mad. But what you said hurt me a lot. You can’t say things like that to people. They are too hurtful.”

What this will do, which is probably the best that you’re going to get, is that Samantha will feel badly. Probably she will even say that she is sorry.

“I’m sorry Mom. I didn’t realize that you would take it so seriously. I promise I won’t say anything like that again.”

And she does mean it. She feels genuine remorse. But though she may not say anything exactly like that again, there’s no guarantee that if very mad, she may say something sort of like that again.

What about punishment? Does she deserve to get punished? Maybe. But all that will accomplish is to make Samantha angry at her mother. It will, in fact, directly get in the way of her feeling any remorse. You don’t feel compassion toward someone who is currently punishing you. That’s not the way it works.

My point here is that if you are the parent of a teenager, it can be a mistake to take outrageously mean statements too seriously or too personally. You should take them for what they are, which is no more and no less than the ranting of a teenager who is not getting their way and is using their words. Nasty words. Very nasty words.

I am not saying that such outbursts are okay, but I am saying that they are not totally what they may seem, other than a kid having a tantrum.