Hasn’t every parent held their little child in their arms at some point and seen a future of love and closeness? Then the day comes when said child decides they know everything and no longer need a parental figure. With or without family training, helping your children grow up into contributing adults is difficult! Assisting children in understanding how to make choices by living with consequences will often provoke slammed doors, thrown objects and those dreaded words… “I hate you!” If you have already heard those words, congratulations. You have already been initiated into parenthood of a teen! The next six to eight years of your life have just jumped several stress levels as you try to handle the many moods of your child.
Those words “I hate you” in a normal family situation is a typical response from a child who is reacting emotionally to a loss of control or a change in how secure they feel.
From an article entitled “When Your Teen Says I Hate You”, Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, said, “What may be helpful is looking beyond the actual words to the meaning behind them. While the package is bigger than it was at age 3, what lies inside may very well be the same: “I feel out of control and I am not sure what to do, so I am going to hurl words at you to keep you engaged. I want to know if you will be here even when I am showing my worst.” 1
If you have set expectations from the time they were toddlers when they wanted to exert their control, then they will know what behavior is acceptable to you now. As children arrive at the point of wanting to become autonomous, they still want to hang on to their family relationships, but seemingly under their own guidelines. This is the time that they need strong parents more than ever. Their declaration of hate is not some kind of terrorist attack on your parenting. Your child needs to feel your love and support under any circumstance. Now that their world is changing, they are looking for anchors and they are going to find them however they can.
Perhaps one way to help your child want to stay connected to you is to give them more opportunities to make choices within your family’s boundaries. By giving them a bit more freedom, they will want to earn your trust. As we “lengthen the leash” a bit, your child will be able to explore more of their world, knowing they are still on a secure foundation.
What happens when those kids make mistakes and break your trust? Do we ignore it? Get angry? The Lord has been very clear in how we need to respond to troubling behavior in our children. “Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.” (D&C 121:43-44)
Elder Christofferson taught, “Discipline in the divine pattern is not so much about punishing as it is about helping a loved one along the path of self-mastery.”2
In these days of chaos as the enemy runs rampant across the world, it is more important than ever to pull our children close, to teach them to love the gospel and to discern the truth from error. The adversary would rip them from our families with feelings of anger and isolation. May we always honor these precious children by standing firm in our roles, by loving and supporting them in their worries, leading them to the path of the Tree of Life. When they say, “I hate you”, it means they are watching and listening. Don’t let those teaching moments pass you by, but use them well.
2 “Fathers”, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, General Conference, April 2016