Puberty begins earlier than many think, it flares up again and again at the age of ten. Over the next few years, there are endless discussions about this and that, angry outbursts and constant criticism of the parents. Puberty is exhausting for parents. They will be "From Hero to Zero," says Matthias Jung (44), himself a father of two children. Jung is a graduate teacher and stand-up comedian and tries to ensure that parents don't lose their sense of humor during this time.
WORLD: Why is child puberty so exhausting for parents?
Matthias Jung: These mood swings are typical for a teenager – sometimes jubilant and sometimes sad to death. Seemingly out of nowhere parents are yelled at and insulted - and the children often know exactly which buttons to press in order to hurt. Favorite sentence is a long drawn out "Ey maaan". With my eleven-year-old it already starts. Puberty flares up again and again. As a parent you have such a short phase, around the 2nd to 4th grade, everything is quiet there, things are going well at school, you think, wow, we did everything right, we are such great parents. But the little ones only take a step back to take a running start. Then it goes round. And the parents ask themselves: What have we just done wrong?
WORLD: But are there ways to deal with puberty without wanting to give the child away somewhere?
Young: Yes, there is. First of all, parents can rest easy. If you had a strong, stable, and loving parent-child bond for the first ten years, our children will need more rebellion in puberty to break out of that bond. I like to compare it to a knot in a shoe: if it's stuck, I need more strength to untie it. Rest assured, our teenagers only rebel when they feel loved and safe. At this point, by the way, a relieved murmur often goes through the crowd during my lectures.
WORLD: What exactly happens in the mind and body during puberty? Why are children suddenly so different?
Jung: A lot of things are reconnected in the children's heads during this time, and some are even erased. Some memories disappear completely during this time. So don't be surprised if children suddenly can't do things anymore. A "best of" of positive and negative memories remains in the head. Two places are important: one is the place of feelings, as I call it, and this is where the over-emotional in teenagers comes from. And the prefrontal cortex is supposed to control these emotions. He should say: no, no, we've had really bad experiences there, we'd better not do that now. He thinks reasonable, rational, logical, planned. Like an airport tower, he controls everything. Unfortunately, the problem is that it will be the last to be rebuilt and finished. This is why teenagers are often very over-emotional or talk first and then think about it.
Another part of the conversion problems is that they are not yet aware of the consequences of many things and are forgetful. A Nutella toast is spread and left lying. They are often distracted and not good at thinking ahead. If they say we're going on vacation for 14 days, pack four pairs of underwear.
WORLD: Some young people also seem to be looking for risks. Why is that?
Jung: The risk assessment is also being modified. That's why they constantly have tests of courage or, as they say today: 'challenges'. The reason is that in the place of feelings we have our reward center, the feelings of happiness. Due to the construction site, however, 20 percent of the feelings of happiness cannot be accessed properly. To put it simply, it takes a bigger kick to activate them. What we might feel when jumping 3 meters in the swimming pool, the 10-meter board needs for young people. That's why they're susceptible to alcohol and drugs, they're looking for that kick. This is of course dangerous, and one is concerned as a parent. The desire to try things out during this time is then added to this.
WORLD: You write in your book that even the biorhythm changes, the children get tired later in the evening.
Jung: You get tired an hour or two later. Often they are still hungry in the evening. This has to do with the sleep hormone melatonin, which is released two hours later in teenagers. On the other hand, they are often very tired during the day, and some take a nap again. They can't do anything about any of this. That's why I'm in favor of school starting later, in Scandinavia they've already understood that. 7am is like 4.30am for our teenagers.
WORLD: Parents would like specific tips on how to react, for example, if they are suddenly shouted at or insulted. "I hate you" is one of the most common phrases. What would be a correct reaction?
Jung: Parents usually have little use for sentences like "Don't take it personally", as it says in some books. It's best to remember that the kids are getting a complete upgrade, including new feelings they can't handle yet. They often apologize two hours after such an outburst. You will be completely hormonally overrun at that moment. When they freak out, they actually need our help. Girls in particular often get loud.
WORLD: Is there a difference?
Jung: My grandmother always said that one girl is five boys in terms of effort. The stress hormone cortisol is released more in girls. That's why parents of girls have more fun. The boys tend to withdraw verbally. Subject, predicate, object - one every week. That's enough. When teenagers get loud, you have to somehow contain that anger. There's no use adding fuel to the fire. So don't shout along, just think about it: There are some hormone waves coming. You can also say I can't stand it, I have to go out and get some fresh air. Later, when things have cooled down, you can make it clear: I don't want people to talk to me like that.
WORLD: You write that a lot of what the children say is not directed against the parents. But sometimes it is. Everything is criticized there.
Jung: Yes, at that age they want to try things out, they question their parents and criticize them. The parents are from the "Hero to Zero": first the dad was the king, now he's just an embarrassment. It was the same for me, in the beginning it was great that I was on stage, now it's just extremely uncomfortable. You are now comparing more and more and thinking about it: Am I like that, am I different?
WORLD: In your book you also give two first-aid tips: Firstly, you should simply wait and see a storm and secondly, it is best to always ask a teenager first if he is hungry. Because a hungry teenager is very insufferable.
Jung: Yes, children eat an awful lot during puberty. My son often goes to the fridge every half hour, opens the door and looks inside. Obviously, he is waiting for the miracle of self-replenishment.
WORLD: Do you also have a five-year-old daughter?
Jung: She sometimes throws herself on the floor in the supermarket and screams. But that a five-year-old can be exhausting at times, one should never say in a puberty lecture. Everyone laughs out loud. They then say: Yes, come on in the Champions League. That's second league.
WORLD: Parents often worry about school during this time. The children don't seem to be paying attention, seem disorganized. And they don't want to go to school either.
Young: That is a difficulty. You can tell them that if you don't study now, you'll be left behind at the end of the school year or won't have your Abitur. But there is an art to conveying this to the children in a way that they understand. This is always best done with pictures, you have to paint a picture of the consequences, they can understand that better.
WORLD: But puberty also has its good sides?
Jung: Yes, she makes sure that the children don't just sit around in their parents' booth forever. That's not the point. The children have to detach themselves. In the beginning you are a lump of family unit and now the children are slowly coming out of this protected cover and realizing: I am an independent being. They withdraw into the room, especially boys, and ponder their role and who they are. Sometimes I stand in front of my son's door and think he's in an escape room waiting for clues on how to get out. This is actually only for eating. Or if he needs money. Recently I stood in front of the door again and thought: It's like a long-distance relationship that you suddenly enter into. You love each other, of course, and you're even in the same apartment, but you're not really together.
WORLD: You write: At the end of patience there is still a lot of puberty left. What should parents do for themselves during this time?
Jung: The English word pub is in the word puberty. Maybe not for free. So you can now treat yourself to a glass of wine or go to a café with friends. The cutting off of the umbilical cord does not only refer to the children, we parents also have to learn to let go. Let's look at the positive side: We have more time for ourselves again, are more man or woman again and not just dad or mom. We have time to read a book again. If you have done a lot of things right in the first ten or twelve years, you can simply trust the child. I always say: In the first twelve years there is education, from then on there is a relationship.
WORLD: One often gets the impression that other children have better grades at school, less pubertal defiance. Does parenting style actually affect puberty? Is an authoritarian style or a softer one better?
Jung: A teenager needs parents who have a clear attitude, who offer orientation, set limits, sometimes say no. I don't believe in letting everything go just because it's more convenient. Strong parents who represent values that the teenagers work through are important. Otherwise they are lost later in life and find it difficult to find their way around. But with an authoritarian parenting style, where you just give orders and don't justify anything, self-esteem suffers because you never got to voice your own views. The best solution is somewhere in the middle.
But it's about always staying in touch. It is important that you listen. Otherwise it says: I spoke to my son, but in fact you conducted 80 percent of the conversation yourself. The child's opinion is important. You should show interest in playing a game. The teenagers won't admit it, but they like it. And we have to take them seriously. Don't just say, oh, that's all stuff you worry about. For the teenager, it's important right now. And when we are then told the Netflix series. Especially with girls, this can degenerate into a huge monologue and in the end you think, was that information or just a long podcast?
WORLD: You briefly addressed self-esteem. Is there anything that can be used to increase the self-esteem of adolescents?
Jung: Dealing with the teenager is definitely good. Especially when it comes to school, you should know that in the 7th to 9th grade school has no value for a teenager. On the other hand it is a duty, our children cannot choose how we do our work. And for some children, school is simply nothing or just a certain subject or just the theater group, that was the case with me.
But you get all of that in the conversation, if it ever comes about. Some parents tell me: if I don't ask anything, nothing comes up. It's not easy to find a moment to talk with the kids. These rare moments are precious, so we should listen carefully, not look at our cell phones. Set up penalties, like if you don't do it now, then the cell phone is gone, has nothing to do with contact or a relationship with the child.
In parts of Africa they say: I see you. This is something very wonderful. You perceive the other person. That's what I try to pass on to the parents: to see their child, not what they would like, but how it is and to accept it. Maybe accepting that maybe school isn't for him or her.
WORLD: So ranting about bad grades would be of little help?
Jung: Yes, a catastrophe. Always let the situation cool down first. There is no use in the child's sadness to scold. Later, with a clear head, you can analyze the situation together. Going into a relationship: asking what was going on and what you can do together.
WORLD: Which parent actually gets more of the anger?
Jung: Of course, that always depends a bit, I think, especially who has how much contact. These are often the mothers, but they may also have a touch more trouble letting go. It starts as a baby: the mother picks it up and the dad throws it up. And the mothers think: What is he doing? Many parents tell me that letting go sounds so easy and yet it is so difficult. For example, if you also lose the task of helping at school or don't find out anything more about the school. There is often a dispute about this. But for the school, to put it bluntly again, it's not worth shouting about. The relationship with the child is more important. You can catch up on degrees later. Fathers, from what I hear, have more trouble with the contradiction and insults that come from teenagers.
WORLD: It feels like teenagers only sit in front of the PC or on the cell phone in their free time. Is the anger about it simply a generational problem?
Jung: You have to consider that the social marketplace today is digital. You used to meet somewhere, now you meet digitally. On the other hand, this also has to do with the withdrawal of the children during this time. You don't feel like your parents anymore. We might have been into Gameboy back then. I remember those two or three years, where I just gambled and listened to "The Three Question Marks", were so wonderfully relaxed. Should I spoil this for my child? There is hope that after a few years they will have had enough. At the age of 15 things change, they combine the PC with their hobbies. And please take a close look: Is the child just gambling or is it also cutting videos from its last BMX tour, for example? Of course you also have to be careful that it doesn't become addictive and that you play the whole night. I think as a parent you get a feel for that. Some children also need more structure, need fixed times for the end of play, the others stop on their own.
WORLD: It makes many parents very sad that the mood at home is often bad during puberty. Can you do something against that?
Jung: I think it's important to tell your child that they're allowed to make mistakes, that they're allowed to be angry, that it's allowed to be like that, that it's all normal. You don't have to be perfect. And as a parent, I always try to show my son that I make mistakes too. Parents have to go through a bit. Nobody said it would be easy. We'll be mobbed, yelled at, that's just part of it, we'll get replies, constant criticism, every word weighed heavily. If I drive 33 km/h, my son says: 'Here is 30. 33 is not 30.' It goes on like this for the whole journey. If I get flashed, that's why I have the pinched expression on my face.
You can also think back to your own puberty. You might have been aggressive at times, moody at times, demotivated, lazy, lacking in drive. I always start by asking the audience: Who used to be a teenager themselves? And then everyone laughs. You feel caught. By the way, a lot of things are easier with a sense of humour. That's probably why my books are selling so well. Puberty is when you still laugh.
It is important to keep making offers: how to spend a good holiday together, for example. It's not for nothing that I sell most guidebooks before I go on vacation. Parents are always afraid that the children will miss something on vacation. They just sit around. But they don't miss anything. You lie there in the room and feel comfortable. If you like to chill at home, as a parent you have to reckon with the fact that this will be continued on vacation. Even if the parents are frustrated because the vacation cost so much money. I recommend the parents have a nice holiday, there are some activities together, cool if you come along, but otherwise you leave the teenager alone.
WORLD: It is said that children today reach puberty much earlier than in the Middle Ages. Why is that so?
Jung: Puberty flares up again and again, it comes slowly. This is very fair by nature for the parents. I always call my son cuddle vampire, biting during the day, but he still wants to cuddle in the evening. Yes, puberty starts earlier. Diet is believed to play a role. In the Middle Ages, children didn't have that much on their ribs, so pregnancy would have been unfavorable.
WORLD: Apparently, all families argue about the same issues with teenagers?
Jung: Cell phones and PCs are always a big topic, as is school. Then of course dealing with each other and this: everyone else is always allowed - only the poor child is not allowed to do anything. A big topic is the rivalry between the siblings for the favor of the parents. Always checking which side mom or dad is taking now? It's very, very exhausting, I can say from my own experience. And tidying up the room, super annoying for a lot of parents, but I always say the mess isn't a drama.
WORLD: At some point puberty will be over. When is that actually?
Jung: That's the good news, it will pass. Time is on our side. Unfortunately, neurologically, it can take a long time to find the final synapses. That can only be at 22, 23. When I say that, a mega murmur goes through the crowd again and I see horrified faces. But don't worry: Even before that, the end can be felt in behavior, at around 18 or 19 years of age. Then they hug us again when we say hello. Or something like that happened to me recently, when I took a 17-year-old boy next door with me and asked if we still wanted to go to McDonalds and he actually said: No, we still have bread at home.
WORLD: There are often arguments when helping in the household. They say: the sound makes the music here.
Jung: Ideally, the children have been helping since they were toddlers. Otherwise, one should also keep in mind that the teenagers are having a rough day. They have been in school for a long time and are under pressure plus puberty. I'm a friend of help on demand. I need your help right now. The garbage has to go right now, will you take it with you? Expecting help is difficult. Housekeeping is tough with teenagers. We recently had a fully lubricated Nutella knife in the freshly finished dishwasher. But at least the kid took it from his room to the dishwasher. whoops
What you also have to understand is that empathy is only developed later in puberty. The teenagers are busy with their friends and themselves. They still have no sense for the needs of their parents.
More information: Matthias Jung's Facebook group is called Keep cool, Mama. Another good one is: Teenagers and Puberty - Exchange for suffering parents
Book: Matthias Jung, "Chill out!", Edel Books
"Aha! Ten minutes of everyday knowledge" is WELT's knowledge podcast. Every Tuesday and Thursday we answer everyday questions from the field of science. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Amazon Music, among others, or directly via RSS feed.