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Bumpy Ride: When the Wheels of Adolescence Veer Off Track

She couldn’t care less about anything; it’s as if, in an attempt to conceal everything about herself, she covers up even what interests her. In order to stay anonymous, she seems to work so hard at giving nothing of herself away. With her apathetic attitude, she’s hiding in plain sight. It didn’t used to be that way, but it definitely is now.

He’s missed another three days of school with vague complaints about not feeling well. First it’s his stomach; then it’s a headache. The only thing that seems to help is to shut himself up in his room. He doesn’t want to eat anything; he doesn’t want to do anything but listen to his iPod or be on the computer all night, which he must be since it’s impossible to wake him up in the morning.

She seems to have only two prominent emotions: anger and despair. When confronted about her anger, she just shuts down and says it doesn’t really matter anyway. She’s started making sarcastic, under-her-breath comments that are really scaring you. When you ask her to repeat them, she just shrugs, says, “Never mind,” and walks away.

He’s doing something; you know it, but you can’t put your finger on it. You keep saying you’re going to start searching his room, if he’s ever out of it, which he rarely is. He doesn’t hang around with his friends anymore, and when he does go out, it’s to meet kids whose named you don’t know. A half dozen times you’ve stood at the doorway to his room, trying to decide whether to cross over that threshold; you haven’t yet.

Everything is a big deal to her these days. Everything is a catastrophe, a disaster. Any little thing that happens mushrooms into a huge crisis with you either squarely in the way or squarely to blame. She’s always been a little dramatic, but that behavior has just gone off the proverbial deep end. It feels like she’s drowning in her own tears and she’s dragging you under with her.

He used to proudly show you his progress reports and report card. Now, it’s nearly impossible to get any intelligible response about his grades, which are in a steady, if not swift, decline. You know; you’ve gone online. When pinned down, he’s come up with a variety of excuses, non of which really seem to ring true. You’re worried because these grades count, putting future collect plans in jeopardy, to say nothing of the future itself.

She’s dropped at least fifteen pounds in the last several months. At first you were pleased, thinking she was finally dropping the last of her baby fat, but now you’re worried. She absolutely refuses to discuss it with you. Family meals have become either all-out war zones when it’s just the family or silent no-fly zones when others are present. The more you express your concern, the more weight she seems willing to lose.

It’s like his mind is made of Teflon – nothing sticks. You can tell him a million times to do something, but when you confront him about it, he looks like a deer in the headlights, befuddled by your frustration. You feel like you’ve ben transported back in time to when he was a toddler and you needed to speak clearly and slowly, making sure his eyes were on you. This, of course, doesn’t really go over well now. But you’re at a loss to explain this inability to focus. Is it just you he’s tuning out, or everything?

You could swear you smelled alcohol on her breath the other night when she came in, but she went upstairs so quickly to get ready for bed, you weren’t sure. By the time she came back down to wish you a good night, come to think of it, was kind of strange in itself, she’d taken a shower and brushed her teeth. The only things you smelled then were her usual shampoo and the mint toothpaste. By that time, it was too late, and you just let it go.

You can see it in his face, which is strange because usually his face is devoid of any emotion. That’s the problem – where is he? Where has he gone to? What is he thinking about? If he’s in trouble, why doesn’t he come to you for help? When did you become some sort of enemy, to be kept oh so carefully at arm’s length? You’ve done nothing but love him his entire life. When did that become not enough?

If any of these scenarios ring true for you and your teen, a frank, realistic discussion is probably in order. Be alert; be wise; be real as you consider what these behaviors may may or may not mean to your teen.

The above is excerpted from Chapter 7 of my new book, The Stranger in Your House. I’ll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a FREE copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To participate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers – in the comments section of this or future blog posts, or on the Facebook or Twitter pages linked to below.

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