It’s sometimes difficult for teens to approach their parents, teachers, or other adults for help when they are distressed. Many feel ‘abnormal’ and ‘screwed up” when emotions are feeling too big to manage. I often hear from the teens I work with that parents and other well-meaning adults move quickly into ‘fixing it’ or reassuring when they go to them with intense emotions and stressful situations.
Have you, as a parent and an adult, ever felt really sad, anxious, worried, or angry, for example, and then shared this with your partner or a friend? Hopefully they’ve given you what you needed at the time. Sometimes, though, we don’t quite get what we need. Ever had that well-meaning person who tells you, “Don’t worry,” or ‘You have a great life and nothing to be sad about,” or tries to reassure you with empty promises that, “It will be ok?” Or the other popular response, they tell us how to fix whatever it is, like we didn’t think of that already! Either way, we aren’t feeling much better, and we may in fact, be feeling more angry, sad, or worried than when we started the conversation because the other person isn’t really understanding and feeling, how we feel.
If this has happened to you, then please keep your experiences in mind as you interact with your teenager. The teen brain is running on high emotions at the best of times, so things can get intense quickly when you add final exams to the mix. This can get parents moving quickly into what I call, “Fix it mode,” offering up solutions and reassurance.
What’s the alternative? Often, it’s just listening, which to be fair, may not be as easy as it sounds in some moments, for many reasons. As best you can, really listen, share in their stress (but not becoming more stressed than they are), let your facial expressions and your voice say “I get it.” Try this a few times and notice what happens. Oh, and leave out the solutions unless they ask for them, at least right away. Give your teen a chance to move into a more rational headspace, and then offer to help if they want help. As adolescents become increasingly more independent and autonomous, they want to find their voice and try out their own ideas.
It can be a struggle for parents to hold off on fixing it, as adults, we have the gift of experience and hindsight. By listening, your teen experiences you as being there with them, interested in them, that you get it, and they are not alone – this may be the reassurance they really need. As with the other blogs, this does not replace therapy and may or may not apply to your unique circumstances.