Ep 292: Why Your Teenager Drives You Crazy

Andy Earle: You're listening to Talking to Teens, where we speak with leading experts from a variety of disciplines about the art and science of parenting teenagers. I'm your host, Andy Earle.

We're here today with Todd Baratz talking about why your teenager drives you crazy so much of the time and how to love them anyways.

It turns out that the closer, the more intimate, and the more open our relationship gets with our teenager and with our partners, the more pain we're going to feel.

The very idea that our communication with anybody we care about, should be free of conflict is not helpful. It's not something that we should model for our teenagers. And it's not something we should expect of our relationship with them.

True intimacy, it turns out, is messy and it's uncomfortable.

Todd Baratz is a sex therapist. And he's the author of the book, How To Love Somebody Without Losing Your Mind.

Todd, thank you so much for coming on the show today. Welcome to the Talking to Teens podcast.

Todd Baratz: Thank you for having me. I'm excited to chat with you and connect.

Andy Earle: Yes, likewise. I've been loving your book and really interested to hear more about where these ideas came from.

The book is How To Love Someone Without Losing Your Mind. Wow. What do you mean by that? How do we lose our mind? Why do we do that? And how did you become interested in that?

Todd Baratz: Yeah, spoiler alert, you will lose your mind. Being alive is hard and being in relationships is even harder.

And so your partner and your relationship will drive you to feel like you're gonna lose your mind. And I wrote the book from a place of having had lost my mind. Right when I was born. No, a long time ago in my relationship and having listened to so many clients and thousands of hours in session with my clients and hearing about the struggles that they too were having in their relationships.

And also being on Instagram, hearing from a lot of people. Telling me with desperation, looking for solutions for how crazy they felt in their relationship. So the book is really a story about me and my clients and everybody and their experience in this new version of modern relationships.

Andy Earle: You set up this idea that we have unrealistic expectations for relationships, or for what we're going to get out of our relationship. What do you mean by that?

Todd Baratz: Unrealistic expectations usually start off from Disney. So they're the fairy tales, the prince charming, the one, the happily ever afters, the no problems, the challenge free relationships, the entitlements to a relationship that will fulfill us without any issues whatsoever.

Those are the expectations that really come for us. The idealized, perfectionistic expectations that so many of us would say, I know that perfection doesn't exist, yet when we're in the relationship and our partners disappoint us, it feels like we've just become mortally wounded.

Where the disappointment that we experience inherently in relationships sends us to the moon, even though we know that our partners are going to disappoint us. So all of these unrealistic expectations, they start when we're little and we're watching Disney on TV, on social media, with an aspirational portrait of what relationships we think should be.

But they're nothing idealistic or fairytale based. At all. They're disappointing, especially when you're starting with the expectation that they won't be.

Andy Earle: And you think that has changed over time? You write in the book about interviewing your parents about their views or their expectations going into their relationships and how maybe that is not the same anymore?

What has shifted, you think?

Todd Baratz: Yeah I start the book out doing an interview with my mother and father. And I found out so many different things about them, my childhood, my family, that many of the things that I was struggling with were intergenerational traumas that I had inherited from them.

And that involves everything from how my mother sought love to how often my father was left alone, to how I was left alone and how I sought love. So a lot of these things are patterns in our family is that. Many of us don't know because we're raised in cultures and families that don't encourage us to have these types of conversations.

So for anyone listening, it's really important that you share your story with your kids, and if you're a child, that you ask your parents to share theirs. Even if they're saying, I don't want to share, it's private, or everything was great, which is the usual story. Which, life doesn't exist with, as one note.

It's a full symphony. So getting this information is really crucial to building self awareness. And this information, meaning the intergenerational story of your family. And that starts with your parents. Interviewing them about what love was like, where they learned it, et cetera. And when I did that, it was clear to me that the way that we think about love and relationships are, is purely cultural and based on the time and geography and place that we live. Love is not a factually based endeavor. It's cultural, it's defined by culture and it changes over time.

So when I was interviewing my mother, I said, what were your red flags? And she was like, I don't know what that means. Whereas now, if we said to somebody, what are your red flags? Of course, we would have a whole laundry list of things ranging from ridiculous to reasonable. But so every single piece, the way we think about relationships changes as culture changes.

And so it was a really important piece that I wanted to include because so many people just reflexively launch into a story without understanding the context of the story within the greater culture. Love has changed. Our expectations of love has changed. Our expectations of ourselves has changed. And they'll likely change again.

Andy Earle: What do you think that parents could keep in mind? in order to have that kind of a conversation with our kids. What kind of things should we share and how open should we be? And yeah what would that look like to make sure that goes well?

Todd Baratz: In terms of how open to be, I would say to just be very open. And to also use some common sense. My mother has disclosed things to me at a time and a place that, we could say was not necessarily the most appropriate. But then, we can create context and sharing moments that can feel connective.

So long as it's in service of connecting, I think, be as open as you possibly can.

Andy Earle: How could we start to notice or become aware of if our teenagers are starting to date, if they are having any kind of unrealistic expectations about their relationships or what they're expecting from their partners?

Todd Baratz: A lot of parents, especially when it comes to sex, are waiting till their kids are having sex to start talking about sex, when kids, now have iPhones, can use them better than me at age three.

I was with a toddler the other day, and they were using it to take a photo, and I was like, what? How is this possible? Kids have access to the Internet, which means they have access to porn. And they have access to all sorts of information. So parents are not doing their kids any favors by censoring, withholding, waiting, et cetera.

Obviously, there are certain words that you're going to use. There are certain ways that you're going to explain certain concepts depending on age, but waiting until you see it happening is usually not the best line of attack. We want to give kids information and education, comprehensive before they start even thinking about love and relationships, we want to make it feel like a normal experience with reasonable and realistic expectations.

We want to create relational environments and familial environments where we're expressing a deep curiosity in our kids internal worlds, especially when it comes to love, dating, sex. social relationships, everything. And so we want to do this before something arises. And, curiosity really goes a long way in terms of asking questions and holding space and encouraging that our kids speak.

I know that growing up, I wasn't really asked a lot of questions. I wasn't really encouraged to speak. My internal world was not something that my parents really inquired about. Beyond the, how was your day? So we really want to be able to foster the development of language, deep nuanced language by giving kids information and education about relationships, the how to's about sex. Giving permission for all of that. Regularly checking in about it.

So there's a lot that parents can do to play a very active role in giving their kids a relational and sexual education that would be really impactful.

Andy Earle: And something that really struck me from reading your book is how we can frame relationships or normalize the idea of relationships as being something that you work on. Not something that just happens or you meet the right person and then everything is just easy and it just clicks. That it's something that it takes a lot of work, and that you're actively going to have to keep working on throughout the relationship. Because you talk about this idea of having finding a good enough relationship.

And I think sometimes we don't think that way. Or we think, oh, that's settling. Or I need to find the perfect person and then it should be easy or effortless. What's wrong with that way of thinking?

Todd Baratz: The word settle. Because it's operates around the idea that, there's only one relationship. That you have to find one person, but the reality is relationships begin and they end. Doing what I do I see couples, I see individuals, and I see people getting in and out of relationships.

I see couples ending and beginning relationships. This is a cycle. And you don't need to find someone who's perfect. You do need to find someone who's good enough and who's gonna be nice. And this doesn't mean a relationship that fucking sucks or that is full of abuse. That's a completely different story.

But a relationship where you're satisfied most of the time is really what we need. Because the other things we need are friends, a job that feels engaging or stimulating, personal hobbies. We need a life outside of our relationship. So many people are spending so much time focusing on finding their perfect person, or trying to change their partner, and spending not enough time and trying to really build out their life.

And it's like an investment. If you're investing your money in one account, you're going to be screwed if there is any kind of downturn in the account. You want to have a diverse set of investments. It's the same thing with our life. But so when it comes to the question of how do we step away from looking for the perfect person?

And how do we settle into accepting the fact that what we really need is something good enough. It's a challenge. I think so many people have already internalized these ideas about what they deserve in a relationship in terms of complete fulfillment and no challenge whatsoever and not that much work.

But the reality is that all relationships require work and actually good relationships require work. Healthy relationships require work. It's simply just a part of growth. It's saying my life shouldn't require any hard work. That's ridiculous. We would never say that.

But we do at times think that our relationships shouldn't be that much work. But relational health is no different than emotional health. Is no different than the weather. There's going to be ups and downs and we're going to have to do a lot of work to manage it and grow.

And luckily now, self care therapy, mental health and wellness is really popular. So we're all getting all this permission finally to work on ourselves and to go to therapy and to journal and to reflect. And that's in service of growth, right? We're being encouraged to push through challenge.

Relationships are no different. You won't grow if you get into a relationship and you don't work at it. Similarly to, as I was saying with our lives, so relationships, they require a lot of hard work. We don't need perfection to be satisfied. We just need something that's good enough.

And that is something I write about. It's, I didn't come up with the idea of good enough. There's a long history of the idea of good enough, but it gets lost because right now, it's not necessarily the most appealing idea to people on social media. It's not the viral thing that's going to say, settle for someone that's good enough.

No, people want to really sell the idea: you deserve the world, fuck them. They didn't validate your emotions. And so that's why the idea of good enough gets buried, but it's actually really important. And it actually came from the original idea was the good enough parent.

Meaning that parents do not have to be this perfect caregiver. They do not have to give this kind of perfectionistic attachment relationship. That they have to give something that's good enough. And when we talk about our adult relationships, and we talk about attachment that's become super trendy, the reason why is because our adult relationships parallel our earlier attachment relationships.

So the good enough attachment relationship is similar to the good enough adult relationship. That means not perfect all the time, includes disappointment, includes rupture and repair. Very important for both our relationships with our parents and our relationships with our partners, because it creates resilience and growth, as I was saying. So it's actually a really important thing for people to understand, no matter what stage of life, relational experience they're in. It's really important.

Andy Earle: I had Terry real on the podcast. He was talking about something similar. This cycle of then during the repair phase is really when you're growing in the relationship and as long as we try to stay in the, everything is good phase, then we're actually keeping ourselves from getting to the next level or from growth. And that kind of cycle is is important.

Todd Baratz: And staying in that stage is called denial. Everything's good stage is denial.

Andy Earle: I think we also project that image sometimes where we want to not burden our kids or show that, hey, we've got it all together in our relationship with our partner.

And so we try to not be fighting in front of the kids or let them know that we're not aligned about everything, or we need to present this united front or something like that. But then also in a lot of ways, I feel like then we're almost modeling to them, like a not reality. Or we're modeling this idea that there needs to be perfection or not the messiness of constantly working on the relationship.

Todd Baratz: Totally. And there should be a certain level. I mean, don't scream and yell and call your partner names in front of your kids. But you don't need to protect your kids from normal conflict.

Andy Earle: You also you talk about masturbation in the book.

Shifting gears a little bit.

Todd Baratz: Yeah, I mean, go from parents and fighting to masturbation.

Andy Earle: I just found it really interesting. And you talk about talking with different clients about their habits around masturbation. And there's one client that you're talking with about how he's always being really secretive about masturbation and doing it in the bathroom.

And when did you learn that this needs to be something that you hide or keep secret? And I think of so many ways back to being a teenager and how, yeah, it feels like, oh, it's a secret because it's not something that I talk about with my parents. And so there's becomes this shame associated with it.

And I wonder as parents, how we can make it not feel like it's something that's so shameful? Or how should we talk about masturbation with our kids to not instill that shame?

Todd Baratz: That's a really easy one. It's really easy. You just give them permission to masturbate.

You tell them it feels really fucking good. Do it as much as you want, just close the door. You're never going to get in trouble, have fun, enjoy, do whatever you want. It's pleasurable. It's for fun.

Andy Earle: Get them some lube. Yeah. Take them to the sex shop. Yeah.

Todd Baratz: Get them toys. Get them or devices is now these companies want them to be called.

Just tell them it's great. Like you would eating, or dessert or ice cream. It's a really yummy treat. It's delicious. Maybe people won't say have ice cream whenever you want, but tell them to masturbate whenever they want. Giving permission is really all that's needed. And to really normalize and encourage.

And masturbation is a really important part of sexual health. It's necessary. It's necessary to, for partnered sex too. And if you want to know your body, you have to masturbate. Parents can include everything from permission to education and information about why it's important and why it's healthy and how it can be used when you're with a partner, etc.

And also to do it with a partner. Mutual masturbation is really important in relationships and most people are not masturbating with their partner. But it can be a really important part of partnered sex too.

Andy Earle: You make it sound so easy, but for some reason people don't really want to go there and talk about it with their kids.

And I think so many parents really shy away from discussing it or giving that permission. I don't know. It becomes this kind of thing that you have to do in the dark.

Todd Baratz: It does. And that's because it's historical and this is how experiences get inherited, right? Our parents grew up at during times we grew up during times.

Where we internalize all these horrible sex negative values, all of this horrible sexual fear. I'm a sex therapist and I still have sexual anxieties, we all have internalized this. And so this is how it gets passed on from generation to generation, is the parents, they don't talk about it.

They, maybe if they do, they say it once and they say, but I don't want to know anything. Don't tell me anything. Which communicates some level of shame. So this is how we communicate our values to our kids, either in the absence of information, which is, communicates, we don't talk about this.

This is something to keep private. It's shameful. Be fearful of it. Whatever. So it's a lot of absence of information. And this is how, often kids learn about their bodies. So overflowing with information is the best way to go when it comes to sex. And if you're uncomfortable with it as a parent, you've got to work through that shit ASAP.

So you don't communicate that to your kids so they can enjoy masturbating.

Andy Earle: Yeah. Cause just by not talking about it that is creating this energy where they're feeling like, okay, this is obviously something I shouldn't discuss with a parent. Yeah.

Todd Baratz: But also, what if you had a kid and they weren't masturbating and they never masturbated?

And it would be like, Oh, no, that's a problem. Because it is a problem. You really, and I don't mean this to shame anybody who isn't masturbating. This to just say the masturbation is really important and something, that pleasure we can derive from our body that's within our control. It's empowering.

It's body positivity. It's sex positive, blah, blah, blah. This is something we want our kids to be able to enjoy. If a parent is listening to this and they're like, I don't know how to do it. I just think about them never learning how to masturbate. That would be sad. So you really want to encourage them and you can keep that as your motivation.

And encourage them to masturbate.

Andy Earle: Todd! Thank you so much for coming on the show today.

I am just really grateful for your time and sharing your wisdom and being so vulnerable with your story and and I think it's been really enlightening.

Todd Baratz: Thank you for having me here, Andy. I've enjoyed talking with you and I've enjoyed this podcast.

Andy Earle: Can you talk a little about where we could send people to stay on top of what you're doing and what you're working on next?

Todd Baratz: Yep. You can find me on Instagram at yourdiagnonsense or on my website, toddsbaratz. com. Yeah, either of those would do. The book, it comes out June 4th. Which is wild.

Andy Earle: Exciting. Congratulations. I'm sure it'll do really well.

It's really powerful. It's what people need to hear.

We're here with Todd Baratz, talking about why your teenager drives you crazy, and we're not done yet. Here's a look at what's coming up in the second half of the show.

Todd Baratz: Imagine someone telling you're not allowed to be in a bad mood because they can't be in a good mood if you're in a bad mood.

Andy Earle: You're bringing me down!

Todd Baratz: Yeah. Yeah, and this is how it goes. Let them be in a bad mood.

The need for closeness, connection, special care, taking attention is usually heavily loaded for all of us.

Andy Earle: That's being clingy.

Todd Baratz: Yes, and then there's the cultural ideal of not being clingy and not having needs, which is outrageous.

And so that's why we start with criticism rather than a vulnerable ask.

People often think that healthy communication is about validation and using I statements and repeating what they say. And that's really not healthy communication.

That's telling people what they want to hear. Oftentimes we have conversations and we have disagreements.

There is pain and suffering. And so the more we push it away and hope for something better. The more we push away our humanity, the more we push away opportunities to learn and to grow and to become more resilient.

Andy Earle: Want to hear the full interview? Sign up for a subscription today. It's completely affordable, and your membership supports the work we do here at Talking To Teens. You can now sign up directly through Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.

Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Ep 292: Why Your Teenager Drives You Crazy
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