Last Thursday I went to a seminar hosted by HGNA (Helping Girls Navigating Adolescence) and the speaker was the award-winning Dr. Mike Bradley, author of “Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!” I got a strong dose of reality and the talk also brought back memories of those dark years.

According to Dr. Bradley, teens act crazy because their prefrontal cortex (the anterior part of the frontal lobes of the brain) that is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making and moderating social behavior are under extensive remodeling during the adolescent years, although other parts of the brain that are essential for survival have been well developed. Teens are like well-built cars without brakes that are bound for reckless, irrational or even disastrous behaviors. So don’t take it personally when your sweet little angel one day turns thirteen and suddenly acts like she is under a spell. She’ll scream at you every time you say ‘no’ to her “I hate you! You don’t let me do anything!” or just ignore you like you were a total stranger to her. As painful as this may sound, it is part of growing up and it’s natural.

Our oldest child Jane’s early teen years were turbulent. Once in her rage, she kicked the door to her room and left holes in it (it wasn’t a solid wood door by the way). In spite of our repeated plead and threat, she wouldn’t come home before curfew on weekends. I used to stay up and wait for her. She yelled that I was crazy because she was with friends from church and no other parents were looking for their kids at midnight. Her room always looked like a big explosion just took place and it used to drive me absolutely crazy. One day she emptied her bank account, packed up and left after an argument with her dad. She only called me back after my husband disconnected the service on her cell phone only allowing her to make but not receive calls. She told me she was having a sleepover at Leslie’s house and would come home in the morning. Reasoning with her was impossible those days because she believed we were stupid and had no idea of what she was going through.

But like a switch that had been flipped, all that changed when Jane left home for college. I was shocked when she sent me text messages saying how homesick she was and how she missed all of us. Every time she was due for a home visit, she’d count the days left before she’d get home. She constantly asked how dad and Jake were doing. So we’d get on Skype and talk to her. One time it was close to dinner time and Jane asked Michelle to place the iPad on the dinner table and so she’d feel like she was eating with us.

Was college a magic wand that turned Jane back to her normal beautiful self? Maybe so but not entirely. The reconnection between Jane and me took place months before college. I realized that if I didn’t change how I related to her, I’d lose a precious daughter who was about to fly on her own. Even though Jane claimed I was insane to stay up and wait for her at night because she was a big girl and nothing could have happened to her, deep down she knew that the only reason was because I loved her. She hurled those hateful things at me that got me bouncing off the wall, but when the storm was over, I always managed to let her know that our differences didn’t change my love for her and my deep concern for her safety and wellbeing. I wish I could’ve done it in a much calmer way, but the message has resonated with Jane nevertheless.

Our children today live in an electronic world with thousands of Facebook friends and everything readily available at their fingertips. But surveys have shown that they still consider parents the biggest influence in their lives, which is very encouraging. They may not want us constantly in their face, but our teens do need us more than ever to guide them through adolescence. So we have to be there for them no matter how hard it gets. Withdrawal isn’t an option.

Sending troubled teens to college isn’t going to fix the problem. Dr. Bradley shared some statistics that should get any parents very concerned. One out of four college freshmen are alcohol dependent. One out of five female college students have been raped at some point on campus. So as parents we need to prepare our children for college and wage wars against alcohol, drugs and party sex.

Even though all teens go through the prefrontal cortex construction and tend to act crazy, the degree of expression varies from person to person. Michelle’s adolescence so far has been a breeze compared to Jane’s. Maybe it’s because she has a milder inborn temperament or maybe as parents we’ve got wiser the second time around. However I feel strongly we all have to thank Jane. Most likely after witnessing all the crazy things Jane had done, Michelle just said to herself “That wasn’t so much fun. I am just not going to do it!” Maybe that’s why the two of them have grown so close.

The only times Michelle got really irritated with me were when I pushed her to study hard for ACT. As an Asian parent, I’d never thought I could do this, but I did. I said to her “It’s your life and so make the best of it. You’ve always been responsible and wise, and therefore I’d like to believe you’ll continue to do the same with the college process. I am going to stop bothering you. But I want you to know that I’ll always be here if you need any help.” With that, I stopped breathing down her neck. These days, all Michelle talks about at the dinner table is college, the what-if scenarios. She is freaking out that her top two choices will send her their decisions in less than two weeks. Joe and I keep on assuring her that everything will work out and we’ll support whatever decision she arrives at.

After the seminar I realized that I had to make one adjustment with Jake. The good thing with having two older sisters is that Jake gets lots of love and attention, and the bad thing is he was introduced to their music about six months ago. Jake loves Katy Perry, One Direction, Nikki Manaj and can sing some of their songs. So I explained to him this past weekend that music was powerful and the lyrics could sear into his brain without him knowing it. So from now on I wasn’t going to let him listen to the age-inappropriate music in my car. Jake was okay with it.

Most of the time our messages can get across to our kids if delivered in a firm, calm and loving manner. Even Jake at the age of six is capable of understanding that it is for his own good to give up listening to the music. Same is true with our teens. But so many times we let their sour attitude get in the way of delivering the message. So take a few deep breaths and bite your tongue in the process, but hang in there and never give up. Keep in mind that these dark years shall pass and the sun shall shine brightly again someday!