Ages & Stages: 11-18: Angst, Drama and Your Teen

If dramatic scenes rivaling those of an Academy Award-winning performance routinely play out in your house, chances are you have a teen or tween-aged child. Sometime around age 11, children begin to realize the power that emotions play. From realizing the attention that a slammed door grabs to experiencing sympathetic pangs of angst for a forlorn friend, many children are drawn to drama.

Fueling the instinctual drama of many teens and tweens, some children seem to be magnets that also regularly attract angst-ridden friends. Combined with an adolescent’s natural proclivity to evoke a dramatic scene, having teen drama king and queen friends can be a parent’s worst nightmare.

If you’ve been trying to curb your child’s appetite for drama or to make better choices in friends, you’re not alone. Although drama can be frustrating and counterproductive, you can take steps to ensure you no longer feel like you’re fighting an uphill, dramatic battle.

Who Is Most Dramatic?
It is important to understand how your child exhibits his or her drama. Despite stereotypes and foregone conclusions, young boys are just as apt to be dramatic as their female counterparts. “One major difference between a boy’s and a girl’s drama is the way they express themselves,” says child advocate specialist and family therapist Marie Monteleone.

Young boys tend to bottle their emotions up until they can no longer contain their feelings. “Boys will often explode by shouting, or melt down into an angry pile of tears,” says Monteleone. Teen boys fly off the handle at siblings who accidentally touched their possessions or when a parent inadvertently crosses an invisible boundary line. “My son has stormed out of the room in tears just because I asked how his day was,” shares Laura Preston of Elmhurst, Ill.

“Girls are more apt to express their emotions more frequently,” Monteleone adds. Elizabeth O’Hagan of Avalon, N. J., eagerly attests to how often girls dramatically express their emotions and dramatic flair. “One of my daughters turns setting the table for dinner into an elaborate production, while another carries on about her hair not being perfect as though it were the end of the world!” the resilient mother of four girls explains.

Why Drama?
To some extent, every teen or tween plays the part of drama king or queen. Drama gives teen the chance to explore the ranges of their emotions and measure reactions to their emotions. Once you determine what is at the heart of your child’s drama, you’ll be able to divert it.

Many teens turn to drama because they’re looking for additional attention. It is possible your daughter is trying to belong to a social group and feels needed or accepted by friends who surround themselves with drama. She may be struggling with peer pressure or how to express herself to her family and friends. Talk with her to provide clarity as to how she develops friendships and chooses to express her feelings, concerns or fears.

Dramatic young men might be coping with teetering between wanting to be babied and wanting to be treated like an adult. They might be feeling conflicted between pressure to “act like a man” and the childlike desire to be coddled. “Understanding where a teen is coming from will provide insight into his or her emotions,” says Monteleone.

Are There any Alternatives?
Taming your teen drama king or queen takes a skillful mix of patience, creativity and persistence. Provide consistent boosts to your child’s self-esteem and confidence to eliminate the need to gain attention through drama. Accentuate the positive characteristics of your teen’s peers who are not overly dramatic to provide subtle direction toward a different group of friends. Your child will develop self-confidence to form mutually rewarding and respectful relationships that are not filled with constant angst and drama.

When your teen or tween launches into a dramatic scene, resist fueling the situation by drawing attention to her actions. Calmly and briefly explain that the dramatization does not promote effective communication and she should go to another room to compose herself. After a few instances of not receiving a response to her drama, your teen will realize she needs to choose a different form of expression and communication.

Gina Roberts-Grey is a freelance writer and mom.