Stephanie writes, “My daughter has been sullen and withdrawn lately. She talks back and it’s not at all like her. My husband’s been going through a particularly stressful time with his job and we’ve been arguing more than normal. Do you think that has something to do with her change in mood?”
Teenagers watch their parents and how they treat one another. While it’s hard to know why a teen’s mood has changed, you should know your teen tracks your actions and reactions. Sullen silence may not be a sign that your teen is oblivious to home life. Instead, silence may indicate that your teen has raised the antennae and is picking up on your cues.
Modeling Behavior You Expect
We can both point to times when our children recalled instances in vivid detail of how they responded to a remark we made or an action we took. We are surprised to learn that something we did or said made such an indelible impression when the kids were younger. Sometimes the behavior our children mirror is beneficial. Sometimes it is not necessarily pleasing.
Bill is reminded of his insistence that his grade-school-age sons do their homework first before running off to play. Today that lesson has become a habit in his sons’ households and in their work. Tackle the “unfun” stuff first, get it behind you, then whatever follows will go down more easily. Throughout all the complaining, the moaning and groaning, Bill planted a seed that took root.
Tom’s penchant for being obsessive-compulsive when it comes to order and cleanliness has surfaced in a daughter’s behavior. When he can’t imagine why she’s so, so tidy, he only has to reflect a little closer to home.
”Chores were a weekly routine, like clockwork, and now I’m a clean freak,” Tom’s daughter recently told him. Immediately after she said it, her husband of 18 months quickly nodded. If something like that stuck, imagine the impact of irresponsible or negative behavior by a parent on a child.
Once again, if that’s true of positive behavior, it likewise follows that negative behavior begets negative behavior. Children, even teenagers, are incredibly impressionable. While they resist and rebel, they are also absorbing and processing. And much of what teens say they don’t like or want becomes the foundation for their adult life.
Of course there are no guarantees. Some parents are astonished at negative behavior by their offspring, behavior that mom and dad would have never condoned. He was from such a nice family, we sometimes hear it said about a teenager who commits a crime or does something completely counter to his upbringing. We all know the power of peer pressure, and many times we have seen examples where the pressures to belong to the group and to be “popular” produces inappropriate actions and sometimes devastating consequences. All the more reason for mom and dad to be the very best role models possible—planting seeds, creating balance.