If anyone can handle the stress of parenting in the teen years, you'd think it would be a high school teacher.
That's how Amy Myers felt. She teaches high school English in a suburb of Boise, Idaho, where she says she has "pseudo parented" about 3,000 teenagers "who I have talked to, given advice to, guided, directed, even lectured about teenage issues," she says.
So Myers, 41, felt pretty prepared for her own children's teenage years. That is until her oldest son, Kamron, turned 15. Suddenly, their close relationship turned sour. "Everything I demanded, he fought back. Advice? He didn't need it. Conversation? He didn't want it. It was hands down the toughest journey of my life so far, and that is coming from someone who has raised two children alone from day one and has worked for and earned two degrees," she says.
We found that about one-third (34 percent) of those who live with one or more teenagers said they'd had a great deal of stress in the past month. Once we saw these results, we wanted to know more about the stories behind these numbers. So we put out a call on NPR's Facebook page. Hundreds of parents wrote to us.
From Marion, Iowa, Ann Brendes, 48, who has two sons, 15 and 17, and a daughter, 11, writes that it's "mind-blowing how stressful having teenagers is."
JoAnn Zeise, who's raising a 14-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, says the stress she feels now is a lot different than what she felt when the kids were young. "Once, I controlled the big decisions in their life," says Zeise, 39, who lives in Columbia, S.C. "Now they make decisions that can have drastic consequences. I feel like I am running out of time to teach them the important lessons they need," she writes.
And numerous parents wrote to us about the difficulties of teenage defiance.
When it comes to stress, parenting a teen is "inherently stressful even in the best scenarios," according to David Palmiter, a clinical psychologist, professor at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., and creator of the blog Hectic Parents.com.
He says it essentially boils down to a teenager's quest for independence. And that is understandably stressful for parents who used to be "driving the bus," he says. Now, he says, there's someone in the back seat saying (or yelling) "No, don't put the blinker on here, take that exit, what are you thinking?"
This constant questioning and challenging can be stressful for parents, of course, but Palmiter says it's actually a healthy part of growing up, and it often means parents are doing everything right.
Amy Myers' son Kamron is 18 now, and headed off to college. But the past three years, she says, have been extremely stressful for a number of reasons. She worried about his driving, about parties, about alcohol and drugs. And there were many late nights for Myers because, like many parents, she just couldn't fall asleep until she knew Kamron was safely home.
And like JoAnn Zeise, her biggest worries even now continue to be about her child's future. She's scared that Kamron might make a mistake that just can't be repaired.
"I love this child more than I love myself, and I know what's around the corner and I'm trying to tell him and he's just ignoring me, and I really can't say or do anything about it. I just have to let him experience it and hope and pray that it's not a life-changing mistake," Myers says. Many psychologists say the best parents can do is making sure they have instilled positive values in their children and then just hope for the best.
As for dealing with their own stress, Palmiter suggests parents seek support from other parents, not just about their concerns but also about decisions. He also promotes special "one on one" time with your teenager. This means "being there" completely, cellphone unplugged, talking with your teen or observing them do an activity they enjoy like drawing, shooting basketball or playing an instrument. Just one hour a week of this special time can repair major differences, Palmiter says, and bring much-needed calm to households with teens.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We report this next story with apologies to teenagers listening. The story grows out of a poll NPR conducted on stress in America along with our partners the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. Apparently, stress is greater in households with a teenager. NPR's Patti Neighmond has the latest in our series, Stressed Out.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: If anyone can handle the stress of the teen years, you might think it would be a high school teacher. After all, they deal with teenagers all day, every day. That's how Amy Myers felt. She teaches high school English in a suburb of Boise, Idaho, where she says she's pseudo-parented about 3,000 kids.
AMY MYERS: Who I have talked to, given advice to, guided, directed, even lectured about teenage issues. Maybe, they didn't want to talk to their parents, didn't feel comfortable, weren't getting along with them.
NEIGHMOND: So Myers thought she'd have no problem with her own son, Kamron. After all, they had a really close relationship. Then, Kamron turned 15.
A. MYERS: He wanted his privacy. He was annoyed if I asked him questions he didn't want to hear. If I gave him advice about something, it seemed like he would do the opposite. If I wanted to talk to him, he didn't want to say anything. I got short one-word answers.
NEIGHMOND: In our poll, about a third of those who live with one or more teenagers said they'd had a great deal of stress in the past month. Psychologist David Palmiter says you might think of it like driving a bus. Up until now, the parents have been in the driver seat and pretty much in control.
DAVID PALMITER: Now we have a person in the row right behind us telling us, no, don't put the blinker on there. No, no, take that exit. Not - what are you thinking?
NEIGHMOND: Challenging moments, says Palmiter. But parents should remember even though this constant questioning is stressful, it's actually a healthy part of growing up. And it often means parents are doing everything right, a notion that may be a little hard to appreciate amidst the chaos of raising a teenager.
PALMITER: And one moment, they're poetic. They're - have very altruistic ideas about social justice issues, and then in the next moment, the universe doesn't exist beyond the tip of their nose, and they're highly narcissistic and self-involved. And they seem to go through these vicissitudes rapidly throughout the day. And it's exhausting to deal with that. It's also exhausting to deal with their quest for independence.
A. MYERS: All that, fancy pants, and you air ball it.
NEIGHMOND: Today, Myers enjoys a game of basketball with Kamron and her younger son, DJ, who's 11. Kamron's 18 now and heading off to college in the fall. But Myers says the past three years have been constant stress - worries about Kamron driving, about parties, about alcohol and drugs. There were many late nights because like many parents, Myers couldn't fall asleep until she knew Kamron was home safe.
A. MYERS: What's he doing right now? It's 12 o'clock at night. Where is he? Or how do I even know he was where he said he was today? Or, you know, he's not with me 24/7 so I can't protect him 24/7, you know, like I did.
NEIGHMOND: It's a completely different type of stress than when she felt when Kamron was little.
A. MYERS: But I would take that any day over this because it was physically exhausting and every day I would, you know - he'd be in bed, and I'd kind of sit down and say, OK, we made it. Nobody got hurt. Well, now it's mentally and emotionally exhausting.
NEIGHMOND: Myers knows it's important for Kamron to learn that life choices and decisions have consequences. It's just that it's really hard.
A. MYERS: I love this child more than I love myself, and it's kind of like I know what's around the corner, and I'm trying to tell him, and he's just ignoring me, and I really can't say or do anything about it. I just have to let him experience it and hope and pray that it's not a life-changing mistake.
NEIGHMOND: Today, Myers is preparing to go out of town with DJ. Kamron's staying home alone.
A. MYERS: Just don't roll your eyes. Just listen to me for a minute. There are certain things that have to be done while I'm gone.
NEIGHMOND: Myers goes through the laundry list - taking out the trash, picking up the mail, walking the dog and being aware that neighbors know mom is out of town.
A. MYERS: I don't care if friends come over, but Chip and Tracy do know that I'm gone.
KAMRON MYERS: All right.
A. MYERS: So anything that's, like, more than a couple of cars is probably going to draw attention.
K. MYERS: I got it.
NEIGHMOND: Psychologist David Palmiter suggests one way parents can reduce stress is to seek support from other parents, not just about their concerns, but also about decisions. That's what he does when it comes to coping with his three teenagers.
PALMITER: I can use the other teen parents - hey, you know, they're - they're thinking about doing this party at the lake house. What do you think? Do you know those parents? I mean, what? - you know, kind of using other parents as sounding boards. I do that all the time.
NEIGHMOND: Another thing parents can do, he says - one on one time. It's one full hour just being with your child, talking or watching them do an activity. Palmiter says he seen this work well, even resolving big differences and creating much-needed calm in households with teens. Patti Neighmond, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.