My daughter is turning 14 in a few weeks, and I’m throwing the biggest party.
Not so much because she’ll be 14. But because she will no longer be 13.
I’ve been dreading this year since the day my kid was born, because 13 — as parents, therapists, professional mall workers and all recovered 13-year-olds are full aware — is notoriously the most difficult age for female humans.
Are you scared yet?
In fact, just mention “13” to any veteran parent and you’re likely to get a look of moribund terror like “Cold Comfort Farm’s” Great Aunt Ada Doom when she talks about having seen something nasty in the woodshed.
Although I’m fairly certain I’ve gotten off lightly as a parent (commencing mom brag: My daughter is a great kid), if the past year were a ride at Magic Mountain, it would have been labeled “high thrills.”
So lately, I’ve been sitting in the trenches with other parents, warming our hands over cans of Sterno and trading war stories. Here are 10 tips we want to share:
1. Don’t forget to breathe
Your kid will survive this year. Almost certainly YOU will survive this year. So before you’re tempted to lecture, punish, pull your hair out or scream, take a breath. Drink a glass of water. Then take another deep breath. And then take another …
2. Spend ‘neutral’ time together
Make a point to spend time together where you’re not parenting and she’s not in the role of kid and there are no high stakes or emotions. Volunteer together. Take a pottery class. Go to a game.
3. Stay calm
If you need to talk about anything serious or discuss a broken rule, wait until everyone is calm to do it. (See also: Deep breaths.)
4. Don’t take the stink eye personally
It probably has more to do with how she’s feeling about her hair than about you.
5. Get other adults in her life
Encourage relationships between your daughter and other trusted, responsible adults in your life. Send her on shopping trips with her favorite aunt. Ship her off to spend a week with her grandparents. Let her hang with you and your college bestie. When your words don’t seem to have as much weight as they used to, other grown-ups in your kid’s life can back you up with good advice.
6. Urge her to pursue healthy activities
In a similar vein: Encourage your child to participate in an activity she loves. A coach/teacher/leader telling her she’d better knock off X or be dropped from the team/class/troupe might have more weight than if you say it. Being involved in an activity will give her confidence and nurture friendships in a constructive environment.
7. Don’t let her isolate herself
Don’t allow your daughter to lock herself in her room for 365 days. You might be tempted to let her, but encourage her to spend time with the family. Let her pick the activity sometimes. Watch the show she likes. In our family, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” on Netflix is a winner with everybody.
8. Take time to talk
Talk regularly about something of interest to your child. Pro tip: Challenge yourself in each conversation to ask three good questions. This will force you to pay attention to what she’s saying, even if you really don’t care about anime or lacrosse or that jackass Nick in student council. And even though this kid seems like she’s about to die from having to be seen with you at Target, your interest still means everything to her.
9. Don’t judge
Listen without judgment and avoid the temptation to try to fix everything. Part of being 13 is learning to handle problems. Let her ride with training wheels, but be ready if she falls.
10. Get help sooner rather than later
Make use of your Employee Assistance Program if you have one. Many employers offer free sessions each year with licensed therapists for each member of the family. Don’t wait until it’s a crisis. Head one off. These sessions can help with general anxiety and offer tools for dealing with the everyday life issues that seem to get a thousand times worse when hormones are raging. Oh, and your kid might benefit from going, too.
As for me, I know I’m not out of the woods yet. There are more teen years to come. I also have a younger son, and I hear 15 is especially bad for boys.