I spent years training to be a psychotherapist. Grad school, internships, study and research … And yet one of the most consistently useful things I’ve come across in helping parents accept the nature of adolescence was an article written by Bay Area newspaper columnist, Adair Lara.
When Children Turn Into Cats, describes the confusion parents feel when around age 12 or 13, their once cooperative child begins acting different. Young children are like dogs, she says, “You feed it, train it, boss it around. It puts its head on your knee and gazes at you as if you were a Rembrandt painting… It bounds indoors with enthusiasm when you call it.”
But as kids hit adolescence, they become increasingly independent. And contrary. And even if you are an expert in child development and you know it is coming, it can be shocking to be on the receiving end of teenage disparagement. As Lara explains, they have become cats. “You won’t see it again until it gets hungry … then it pauses on its sprint through the kitchen long enough to turn its nose up at whatever you’re serving. When you reach out to ruffle its head, in that old affectionate gesture, it twists away from you then gives you a blank stare, as if trying to remember where it has seen you before.”
For parents, maintaining perspective (a sense of humor) can be critical. The teenage developmental task is to develop a sense of identity and to learn how to think for oneself. As young people are learning to do this, they can go a little overboard. They argue about everything. They might disregard the rules if they don’t agree with them. And while this can be extremely trying and confusing for parents, it is normal part of development in our culture.
I’ve watched many parents struggle and fail to stay connected to their teen through this dog-to-cat transformation. After all, the cat acts like he/she wants nothing from you except that you pay the cell phone bill, and include unlimited texting. This is not the case. Believe it or not, teens often tell me they miss the years of being close to their parents.
So how do you get close to a cat?
- Show interest in things he/she is interested in.
- Listen to their music even if you don’t like it.
- Pay attention to your tone of voice and watch out for subtle sarcasm, criticism and intolerance.
- It communicates more than the words.
- Know what they are studying in school and ask them to teach you something. i.e. Spanish, photography, graphic design.
- Cook and eat meals together.
- Collaborate on the menu.
- Learn the names of their friends.
Lara says, “remember that a cat needs affection, too, and your help. Sit still, and it will come, seeking that warm, comforting lap it has not entirely forgotten. Be there to open the door for it.”
To read Lara’s article in its entirety, go to When Children Turn Into Cats