“Teen Bumps”

Carmel Valley San Diego Community | Dr. Kanner | Teen BumpsFirst come the “kid bumps” (those times when a child’s behavior triggers the parent to actually enforce change to avoid further setbacks in development), and then the dreaded “teen bumps” which is a whole different animal.  This is because they aren’t those cute little kids anymore acting up.  Instead, it’s some mutated organism stuck between childhood and adulthood and in a constant state of flux.  To make matters even more complicated, they are frequently taller and stronger than us and they tend to run in packs .  But, from a mental point of view, they often think and act like the toddlers they were years back that you were convinced they “outgrew”.  Well, they’re back for Round 2.

As Psychoanalysts, we call this a “regression”, whereby the mind goes backwards when faced with a lot of stress.  You know how this works.  When you get afraid, you go back to what was familiar even if it didn’t work out so well the first time.  It’s like a bad habit comes back again.  I have written about this before.  If you take the first digit off of a teenagers chronological age , 13 for example, the remaining number is the age they act when they are upset with something. Therefore, when dealing with a 13 year old “teen bump”, it’s that same 3 year-old acting out.  Go back and look at family pictures.  You will remember not much fun for either the teen or the parent.  Now or then.

So, when a teen hits a bump, something is really freaking them out and they are reacting.  The typical parent however just gets the brunt of their kid’s fear masked in acting out and takes the bait and blows up forgetting this is a message to maybe make a shift towards a more mature position.

Teen bumps come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Let’s look at a few.  How about Teen Bump #1: The Complete Disrespect of Parents.  For some reason, many teenagers seem to think they can call their parents names.  It’s a test, trust me.  This is what is going on unconsciously in the teen mind: “Is my mom going to let me do that or not”.  “Can she stop me, really?”  Kid’s test limits when they are upset about something.  They are usually worried and looking for stability and respect.  They just don’t know it yet.  One colleague of mine told me the story of how her 14 year old son kept calling her “stupid” in public.  Given she is a University Professor, this was a major bump for her but she was smart about it and he didn’t do it again.

Other potential “teen bumps” include: failing grades ; being late for curfew ; the finding of beer cans in their room garbage can; or even the computer left on with a porn site flashing an ad.  Bumps are bumps and come in all shapes and sizes.

So, when a teen bump hits your house, here’s what you do.

  • Remain calm.
  • Realize this is normal and they are suppose to do this.
  • Remember that you are the parent and must remain in charge.
  • Always feel compassion and love first for your child or teen before letting your anger blind your reason. Remember, they are terrified.
  • Validate their feelings but demand a change in expression – a nice one.
  • You can take things away to help them change.  Just do it when they are at school to avoid more conflict.
  • Give stuff back to them when they act normal.
  • If all else fails, tell them there is such a thing as PPS ( Parent Protective Services ), which is the adult version of CPS ( Child Protective Services ) and you will report them if they keep it up.  Actually, each parent should be their own PPS and enforce their rules to help protect and guide their children onto healthy adulthood.

______________________________________________________________Carmel Valley San Diego Community | Keith Kanner

Dr. Keith Kanner is a Licensed and Board Certified Clinical Child, Adolescent, and Adult Psychologist and Psychoanalyst. In addition to a full-time private practice in Rancho Santa Fe, California, he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego where he teaches both human development and also trains medical students how to better understand and relate to their patients. He also serves as the Director of Clinical Counseling for La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and is a Clinical Professor at The San Diego Psychoanalytic Society and Institute.  Dr. Kanner also sits on the National Board of Directors for Kids Korps USA, which is the largest organization in the country that teaches children and adolescents the importance of volunteering to help the community at large. As a father of three children, he is also a dedicated baseball, football, and soccer coach.


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