One of the most difficult things that can happen when parenting a teenager is feeling the loss of connection and yes, even control, that you had when your child was younger.
Communication can become murky at best. In conversations with some teens, they feel as though they can’t confide in their parents – sometimes in fear of being misunderstood, or because they feel that their parents will overreact. There are some teens and parents that have a close relationship with their parents – if this is the case with you, you are one of the lucky ones. Most teens, in their developmental need for autonomy, find themselves with only their friends to talk to, and those friends lack the life experience to really be of any help and sometimes can add fuel to the fire.
I’ve also known teens forced into therapy (I even forced my own). This is frequently counter-productive unless the therapist really has a knack for your teen and can develop a trusting relationship. Many teens tell me they hold back in therapy, not trusting the process, or that reports may get back to parents about what they say. I think all teens need at least one trusted adult that is not their parent, whom they feel that they can approach and confide in when the going gets tough. I am blessed to have been that person for many young people over the years and hope to continue for many more.
In my groups with teens, I’ve told them that I have a workshop that I offer that focuses on helping adults understand teens. I have asked them what they would want their parents to know. So, out of the mouths of teens, come these tips:
- Please don’t hate my mood swings – it makes me feel that you hate me. Try to remember that it’s part of all the physical changes and I can’t help it.
- Please listen to my side of things before you assume what’s going on.
- When I get angry, please give me lots of time and space to process and cool off before you try to work it out with me.
- Don’t over-analyze or “hyper-parent” me.
- Teens aren’t “open” because we don’t think we can be. We’ll give very subtle hints that we need to talk about something…please watch for those clues and ease into a conversation.
- Sometimes when I’m in my room, I’m not depressed or suicidal, I just want some peace and privacy.
- If I’m helping out with something, please let me do it my way.
- Spend time with me when I’m in a receptive place, please don’t force family night.
- Let me try to be responsible, even if I’ve messed up before.
- Video games – look further than the rating.
- You can solve anything with a teen by talking to them instead of at them. Work together on setting limits and making compromises.
- If you say no to something, please give me a reason. “Because I said so” makes me feel shut out.
- Please knock and wait for me to answer before entering my room.
For some families, typical adolescence is fairly smooth with normal bumps along the way. For other families, it feels as though the storms will go on forever. Rest assured, they do not. The developmental goal of adolescence is steps toward becoming an independent adult. As all this happens before the brain is fully grown and so there is a cavern to cross between wanting to be an adult and being ready to be an adult.
One thing that causes some teens a lot of distress and they may not mention is the sheer terror they may be feeling about having to actually grow up and become independent. I remember one night, my older son was having an incredibly what I thought unreasonable tantrum about a broken game controller, and nothing I recommended about solving it could sooth him. And then, all at once, he burst into tears and talked about the huge fear he was carrying around about growing up and being on his own. After reassurance that our family is a team and will always be a team, and that the rug of support would not ever be abruptly pulled away as he moved into adulthood, he was able to set his fear aside and continue the process of growing up.
This is a rather long read, I know. There is so much that could be covered on the topic of supporting teens and our relationships with them. As the grandmother of a soon-to-be 16-year-old, I am with you as parents in wondering where all the years of gone so quickly. So while you may be in the thick of things with your teen, it is truly a blink. And for most teens, things are going to turn out just fine.
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