Dealing with Teen Drama

Adolescence is an emotional roller coaster, and it can seem like teens have over-the-top reactions. For parents, the constant turmoil can be frustrating. But, it’s important to understand that most teenage drama has to do with biology. Brain development and hormonal shifts lead to mood swings that are often beyond a teen’s ability to control. Some teen drama is a way to explore emotions and others’ reactions. Either way, it’s very normal for youth to be drawn to drama.

It is important to understand how your child exhibits his or her drama, because every adolescent displays it in their own way. Despite the stereotype of girl drama, boys are just as likely to be dramatic – they just act it out in different ways. 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, eye rolling, 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:

Pay attention

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 they’re 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 they need to avoid a drama scene.

Don’t minimize

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 validate their feelings even when you don’t think the situation constitutes a crisis.  Do not offer advice unless they ask and do not try to solve the problem for them. You might ask if they would like to brainstorm solutions together. Do not put down their friends – they may be mad at them, but they will take offense if you belittle them. Do not call their concerns 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.

Stay calm

Many psychologists believe that teen drama is actually made worse by parents who indulge in their child’s emotions too quickly. Matching your teen’s level of emotion will make the situation worse. 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 their 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 rather than enabling your teen to be dramatic, empower them 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 engage in a heated discussion. Instead, ask your teen to take a break to compose themselves so that you can have a good discussion when they are calm. By not providing a response to the drama and by offering more attention when your child is calm, you will train your teen to respond more calmly to future situations.

Teach positive coping skills

When your child is calm, explain that emotions are always okay. It’s normal to feel angry, worried, or sad. However, intense feelings do not excuse bad behavior. Spend time teaching your teen anger management skills, emotion regulation skills, and positive coping skills so that they can find healthy ways to deal with their big feelings.

Final Thoughts…

To some extent, every adolescent stars in some dramatic scene of their own making. Developmentally, teens need the chance to explore the full 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 meltdowns and calm situations quickly – become an expert in your child’s dramatic flair to head it off!

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