What happened to my sweet girl?

I think it is safe to say that most every mom is asking this question when her daughter hits the teenage years. I find myself asking that like all the time. I can remember the sweet, fearless, loving, carefree, friendly to everyone child who lit up every room that she entered. She was pure sunshine, almost never cried and almost never stopped chattering away telling me about every moment of every day. She was brilliant and not afraid to show off. She was full of infinite talent and every day was a new adventure. I couldn’t wait to see what she would do next. I wanted her to stay little forever. I was sure that our bond would last forever! I felt so connected to her that sometimes I felt like I could actually read her mind. Ok I realize that this all sounds like a huge wad of rose-colored glasses baloney, but I definitely wore them with pride. Every mom does at one point or another.

Boy how times have changed! Guess what I am doing right now? My little ray of sunshine has me watching Annabelle Comes Home because she loves horror movies and sometimes they are the only thing that can brighten her ever dark or at least mysterious mood. ( I have to admit that I am not exactly under duress because I love them too) But seriously, we have gone from My Little Pony to Annabelle? Overnight? Just kidding. It is not really over night. I realize that if I don’t sit and watch it with her, the end result may be that she just disappears up into her room until it is time to go to bed and then I will be left all by myself. At least this is some kind of bond right? It’s not the tons of cuddles and snuggles that I might prefer, but it is something. Sometimes you take what you can get.

I can tell ya that the chatterbox I once knew has also gone the way of the dodo. Most days there are sullen stares and monosyllabic utterings at best, complete with a complimentary sullen look or two. It’s not that she it outright mean or unkind, just enigmatic and reluctant to communicate without pulling so many teeth that you are afraid you will run out…lol Every now and then she throws me a bone and we have an extended conversation and I get a glimpse into her beautiful head and what she is thinking, but these moments are too few and far between for me. I soak them up like a sponge while trying not to seem too eager.

The fearlessness has disappeared, which makes me sad. I miss the little girl that could just charge up to anyone and make friends within minutes. Now she hesitates, overthinks, and sometimes misses out on some really great opportunities and friendships. I don’t completely understand why. She labels herself as having social anxiety as an explanation. She worries about looking like she is trying to suck up to people and that somehow she will get interpreted as being disingenuous in some way. She seems to need a lot of convincing that people will think she is worth knowing in some situations. I find myself wondering how this happened? I realize that it is part of the normal course of growing up to tailor behavior dependent on the situation and that people would not always find it appropriate for a teenager to just go running up to people whenever she wants. Ok, sure, but how did it get so far? How did I miss this progression from social adjustment of age-appropriate behavior to outright anxiety? It wasn’t for lack of asking her how she was doing or trying to “check-in” with her on a regular basis. Did something happen to her? Did someone hurt her? Is today’s teen social culture so stressful that it turns happy-go-lucky kids into anxious adults? I can imagine that that would be true. Look how open and exposed they are all the time with social media. These kids don’t keep anything to themselves and in turn leave themselves open for all kinds of judgement, rumor and scrutiny. They put more pressure on themselves than we adults ever could. Now there doesn’t seem to be any limits to bullying or anything else. If you want to ruin someone’s life nowadays, you don’t even have to be near them. You can just cyberbully them online. What is happening?

She has a boyfriend now too. He seems great and they have things in common. She loves him. They are both respectful and good kids. I like him. He seems to make her happy and annoyed at the same time. It is a strange combination, but I can understand it because that is how I feel about my husband sometimes…lol For all the good parts to their relationship, the reality is that it creates another level of separation between us. He is probably her number one choice to spend time with now. Now I have to wonder what they are up to. Are they being safe? Are they getting themselves in over their heads? I am no dummy. I know what teenagers are up to these days. I see them every day at the office. I have to realize that my main job now is not to necessarily know what she is up to every minute of every day, but to keep the lines of communication open, hope that she has been listening to the advice that I have taught her, not make it any easier for her to get herself into trouble and above all, hope that she will come to me if she does. That is NOT easy.

Ok in my rational moments, I actually realize that my girl is still my girl. She is still talented, beautiful, intelligent, and wise beyond her years. She still loves us. She is just changing and trying to figure out her new mood-labile hormones, growing up, how to fit into the world in a different way and how to balance her relationship with her boyfriend and her relationship with us. That is a lot of change over a pretty short period of time if you think about it. All these things are just as hard for her as they are for us. There will be no easy path through this. I just have to keep reminding myself of that and try to be patient. Have a fantastic day everyone!

Dr. Katz

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