by James Dobson, Ph.D.
And now a word of advice for parents of a strong-willed girl whose personality becomes downright nasty every month. I strongly recommend that you encourage your daughter to plot the particulars of her menstrual cycle on a graph. Talk to her about PMS and how it influences behavior, self-esteem and moods. Ask her to record when her period begins and ends each month, as well as how she feels before, during and after her cycle. (Don't bring up the subject until she is in midcycle.) I think you and she will see that the emotional blowups that tear the family apart are predictable and recurring. Premenstrual tension during adolescence can produce a flurry of tornadoes every 28 days.
If you know they are coming, you can retreat to the storm cellar when the wind begins to blow. Unfortunately, many parents never seem to notice the regularity and predictability of depression, agitation and conflict with their daughter. Watch the calendar. It will tell you so much about your girl.
Emotional balance in teenage boys is not as cyclical as it is in girls, but boys' behavior is equally influenced by hormones. Everything from sexual passion to aggressiveness is motivated by the new chemicals that surge through their veins.
Nothing Is As Simple As It Sounds
Having made the case for hormonal influences, now let me add that nothing is as simple as it sounds.
Recent studies reveal that hormones are not the only culprits in the mix. Immaturity is also caused by incomplete brain development during early adolescence. These findings were summarized in a US News & World Report article. Here is what was written:
And just as a teenager is all legs one day and all nose and ears the next, different regions of the brain are developing on different time-tables. For instance, one of the last parts to mature is in charge of making sound judgments and calming unruly emotions. And the emotional centers in the teenage brain have already been revving up, probably under the influence of sex hormones. This imbalance may explain why your intelligent 16-year-old doesn't think twice about getting into a car driven by a friend who is drunk, or why your formerly equable 13-year-old can be hugging you one minute and then flying off the handle the next.1
Researchers have also discovered that a teenager's brain goes through an experience called pruning, in which the brain purges itself of neurons and synapses it no longer finds useful. These neurons and synapses are developed between the ages of 9 and 10 and then are eliminated as the brain decides which to retain. Thus, until the prefrontal cortex of the brain has gone through this pruning process, most young teenagers do not have all of their brainpower at their disposal, especially the power to make good judgments. This can also result in teenagers having difficulty managing multiple tasks.2
Isn't that interesting? These findings should be helpful when the kid you brought into the world in love, and for whom you would give your very life, accuses you of being Attila the Hun and hisses like a snake when told no. This negativism isn't entirely your fault. And this individual, when grown, will look back and talk with you about how cantankerous she was during this time.
A woman named Joy, who appeared with a panel on a Focus on the Family radio broadcast, told us that her impossibly rebellious, strong-willed daughter wrote an emotional letter from college, apologizing and saying her mother was her best friend. That is not an unusual outcome.
This, Too, Shall Pass
The bottom line is that the adolescent years represent a transition period that will soon pass. Don't be too discouraged when the storms are raging. Keep your confidence when under fire, and do the best you can to work your way through these conflicts. And by all means stay in touch with your kids, even when you and they are having trouble understanding each other.
Remember that your formerly pleasant and happy child, who seemingly degenerated overnight into a sour and critical anarchist, may also be worried about what is happening to her. She may be confused by the resentment and anger that have become so much a part of her personality. She clearly needs the patient reassurance of loving parents who can explain the normality of this agitation and help her ventilate the inner tension. It's a job for Superparent!
This material is excerpted from Dr. Dobson's book The New Strong-Willed Child (copyright © 1978, 2004 by James Dobson, Inc.), published by Tyndale House Publishers, and is used by permission.
1 Shannon Brownlee, Roberta Hotinski, Bellamy Pailthorp, Erin Ragan, and Kathleen Wong, "Inside the Teen Brain," US News & World Report (August 9, 1999): 44.