Dear Danni: Help! My teens are acting like ‘Mean Girls’ & it’s getting me down

Dear Danni,

I have two teens, a son aged 13 and a daughter aged 14. They are both “Mean Girls” to me. Apparently, everything I do and wear is embarrassing (my daughter is already teasing me about the need to get new swimmers this year as she hates my bikini). I know they love me, and I do try to be less cringe-worthy, but when they pack up and taunt me, it genuinely gets me down. 

There is a part of me that wants to run over there and give you a big hug, and then call your kids out on their behaviour and explain to them that they are being little monsters.

I’d also like to reassure you that you are not alone. There are millions of perfectly awesome parents out there who have been told they look crap in their swimmers, that the way they sing is the worst, and that even the way they laugh is hideous. My own daughter, now 21 and one of my dearest friends, once told me when she 13 that the way I laughed was so revolting it made her dry retch.

But none of that would really give you any real insight into why these kids who once thought everything you did was magical (I am sure even sleeping next to you once had healing powers to drive away bad dreams and whirling worries) have turned into such cruel critics.

Adolescence is a time of pulling away – our teens need to withdraw in order to form their own unique adult identities, and to gain the independence they need to leave the nest. But why does the pulling away often accompany punching out?

I also think many teens are just so exhausted and miserable that they take all that despair out on those closest to them.

They have to get up early every day for school, even though they often feel shattered (they aren’t bluffing either – their body clocks are out of whack and they do feel sleepier early in the day, more active late at night).

They drag themselves off to sit through classes which may or may not interest them, with people they may or may not like.

Then there’s the intensity of navigating friendship politics – while everyone’s emotions are heightened. So many feels! All the feels!

When they finally get back home, they can’t switch off for the day, but rather they have to ramp up again, do homework and perhaps help with household chores, never mind deal with sibling/family politics.

They’re told by society, and perhaps by their own family, that most things they are interested in are stupid (whether that be social media, gaming, or a musician they’re fanning over).

They’re dealing with emerging pimples, pubes – and trying to process images of beauty / masculinity that don’t look anything like them.

They’re asked what they’d like to do with the rest of their lives when they’re not even sure what they’d like for dinner.

They’re coping with crushes and their burgeoning sexuality with little or no real-life experience to fall back on as a guide.

Perhaps rather than being little monsters, underneath all those spikes and prickles are your beautiful, loving kids – who are struggling to process monstrous emotions and circumstances.

However, I want to be clear here. None of this excuses their behaviour.

Love is not lashing out, it’s a helium-fuelled emotion that elevates.

It is our job to hold our children accountable for how they process their emotions and to ensure they won’t grow up into adults who think they can treat their loved ones badly if they’re having a dark day.

I suggest you pull on those bikini bottoms, hold your head up high and explain to them that they need to talk to you with respect and kindness. Have an open and honest discussion about how their taunts are impacting on you, and why you expect more from them. Let them know you empathise with their feelings of frustration and body image blues, but these are not yours to carry for them. And please, please do not try to be “less cringe-worthy”. Do not try to be anything other than yourself!

Because every time you wear what you want, and laugh out loud (even in a way that they find nauseating) you are modelling for them what being a happy, whole woman who refuses to bow down to societal pressures looks like.

This was originally published by Women’s Agenda.