Everything’s a Drama
If your home has more dramatic scenes acted out in it than an Oscar-winning film, you likely have an adolescent in your family. Beginning around age 11, children realize that emotions can garner powerful responses. A slammed door might bring an angry response from dad. Sobbing over a friend’s betrayal might bring a sympathetic response from mom. Regardless of the reaction they get, many children are drawn to drama.
Despite the stereotype of girl drama, boys are just as likely to be dramatic – they just act it out in different ways. It is important to understand how your child exhibits his or her drama, because every adolescent displays it in their own way. Young boys tend to bottle up their emotions until they explode. They may have fewer episodes of drama, but when they can no longer contain their feelings, they will express a lot of anger through shouting or flying off the handle at some minor offense. Girls are more likely to show their dramatic flair more often and through different means such as crying, sulking, slamming doors, and stomping off in a huff.
Reducing the drama in your home requires patience and persistence. You need to prevent drama where you can, and when it does happen, respond to it in a way that is neither too tolerant nor too indifferent. Here are some tips for parents:
One of the things that all teen drama kings or queens require in order to be effective is an audience. Many teens turn to drama because they’re looking for additional attention. If a teen only gets eye contact from their parents when they are angry, then he or she is likely to engage in more drama.
You should try to provide your teen lots of attention when you like their behavior, reinforcing positive actions. For example, when your teen is able to express him/herself calmly, be sure to actively listen to his or her feelings completely, without interrupting. Providing your undivided attention and sympathetic ear might be all he or she needs to avoid a drama scene.
If you believe your teen is learning his/her new dramatic skills from their friends, you might try mentioning the positive characteristics of your teen’s peers who are not overly dramatic to provide subtle direction toward a different group of friends.
Part of being a teenager is feeling things intensely, so what may seem like no big deal to you is hugely important to your adolescent. When you trivialize the importance of things in your teen’s life, your teen actually feels misunderstood and unvalued. Teens whose parents minimize their experiences will stop telling their parents anything that is going on in their lives.
When your teen tells you about something that has upset them (her best friend is flirting with her boyfriend or his teacher embarrassed him in front of the whole class again), you should simply listen and sympathize (put yourself in their shoes). Do not offer advice unless they ask. Do not put down his/her friends – they may be mad at them, but you will put them in a position of trying to defend them if you belittle them. Do not call his/her concern silly or unimportant. Do not compare their experience with anyone else’s – for example, don’t launch into your own work story to show them what REAL problems look like.
Many psychologists believe that teen drama is actually made worse by parents who indulge in their child’s emotions too quickly. Despite what your teen may say or do, they are taking their cues from you on how to handle the challenges and difficulties that are an ordinary part of life. So, you are role modeling how your teen should react to his/her experiences.
If your teen is hurt (e.g. relationship breakup), you can offer a sympathetic ear, but the more you dote, coddle, or remain attached to the negative, the more your adolescent will, too. It’s hard to see your teen in pain, but do not enable your teen to be dramatic, empower him or her to rise above it.
If your teen is angry and yelling at you, do not respond in kind, even though the temptation is great. Stay calm and do not argue. Instead, calmly ask your teen to go to their room to compose themselves so that you can talk when he/she is calm. By not providing a response to the drama and offering attention when your child is calm, you will train your teen to respond more calmly to situations.
To some extent, every adolescent stars in some dramatic scene of their own making. Developmentally, teens need the chance to explore the range of their emotions and measure reactions to it. Parents should try to strike a balance between not indulging nor minimizing their child’s feelings. Parents can also work to observe their teen’s reactions closely in order to learn how to prevent melt downs and calm situations quickly – become an expert in your child’s dramatic flair to head it off!