We all know that change is an inevitable part of growth. And one of our primary roles as a parent is to help our children grow. However, it’s not our job to change our teen. I can feel the bristling, but just stay with me for a minute. If we try to change our teen, we all know they will resist; this puts us on opposing teams. We want to be on the same side. It’s a teen’s job to practice the independence that will help them navigate the ever increasing changes in their lives. It’s a parent’s job to manage ourselves in the midst of that change and to provide a safe place for them to return for respite. Sounds balanced and all kumbaya, right? But what if your kid is changing in a way that makes your gut queasy? What if their new friends set off alarm bells in your head? How do you tell when it’s time to step in and when it’s time to leave them alone? What do you do if your child is enthralled with (cue scary laugh) an Emotional Vampire?
First, let’s define an Emotional Vampire, or EV. EVs are sometimes baby narcissists who play with emotions for sport, stirring up drama to keep themselves in the center of the swirl. Then there are the EVs who are just lost kids with crummy home lives who are drawn to shy, sensitive kids because of their vulnerability. The EVs use flattery and attention to reel in quiet kids to provide themselves with company; misery loves company. My middle child collected EVs like baseball cards, until it made me crazy with fear that these broken kids would break my kid, just for fun. And I had no clue how stop it. I knew that I could not stand idly by while my child became someone I didn’t recognize. So I developed the EV Battle Plan:
Step One: Make sure there really IS a problem
There are so many stressors in middle and high school, that if you go to threat level red on all of them, you will exhaust yourself and alienate your teen. The signs that an EV has hold of your teen are: 1. Your child stops talking to you or making eye contact, 2. They change their appearance, drastically. They go from preppy to black leather, Cleopatra eyeliner and chains, or from librarian to vamp, 3. Their grades take a nosedive. Your A/B student starts bringing home Ds. These situations are evidence that your child’s Inner Guide is no longer in the driver’s seat. If they are struggling with an EV-directed emotional kidnapping, they will no longer look or act like themselves. If they’re just being witchy, go meditate or exercise and wait for a time to connect through humor. If their mood has nothing to do with you, don’t borrow trouble. If your Inner Guide says there is a problem, then go to Step One-A.
Step One-A: Center yourself
Warriors from time immemorial have practiced pre-battle rituals. If your gut tells you something is wrong, and your teen is exhibiting the above behaviors, then you must first get very clear about what to do next. Take time to meditate, pray, exercise, sleep or do any other form of self-care that feels good to you. Do not react from a place of fear, because that leads to actions you will regret. This is a minefield; you don’t want to rush headlong into an explosion that will blow up your life and the life of your child. Did you notice that I recommend self-care regardless of whether or not you’re in battle mode? Anytime you are dealing with a teen, self-care should always be your first response. Ground yourself in love, and then take action.
Step Two: Invite the Vampire Over
I know in the movies, this is the wrong thing to do; but in real life, you want to re-con the situation directly. Come up with a super fun activity that is easy to prepare; ask your kid for suggestions. Like this, “Sweetie, I feel like I never see you. Let’s have a party and invite some friends over; what do you want to do? Pizza, sleepover and movies, maybe?” Then when the new kid comes over, you can assess which type of EV he/she is. If it’s a lost kid, maybe you can love them enough to really help them. I have always told my girls, “if you have friends who are on a different level than you, for reasons beyond their control, you can either pull them up or they will pull you down. The former is why we are on this Earth, the latter means the friendship has a short shelf-life.” But if the EV is the baby narcissist variety, then you know that it’s time for battle stations.
Step Three: Battle Stations
You will either need to ban the friend in whatever form feels right to you, or get help to remove your kid from their presence. I have been on both sides of the E.V. issue, and neither side was easy. In one instance, I moved my kid to another school, and in the other, she did school online while working as a model. Both solutions eventually worked, but the process was not simple or easy. The end result was that both daughters graduated with good GPAs and learned to banish EVs all by themselves. I have seen parents who do nothing, and the consequences were far worse. Burying your head in the sand is never a good battle strategy; if you ignore the situation, you could irrevocably harm the relationship with your teen.
I don’t say this to scare you; fear is not a good motivator. I want to empower you to do what’s best for you and your family. Dealing with EVs is delicate. The only hard and fast rule is that you must center yourself in love before taking any action. Remember that life with a teenager is like building a plane while you’re flying it. Things change at a lightning quick pace. If you can practice radical self-care, then you can handle the change and make decisions from a place of love.
Because the best defense against the dark arts is always love and compassion.
PS For more tips on dealing with EVs and other stressors in the adventure that is parenting a middle school, high school, or college student, please join me on my free call for Worried Moms. The call is Wednesday, September 10, RSVP here.