-With Guest, Mary Bell, MSW, RSW

Has your teen ever been disappointed, treated unfairly, bullied, left out of something that mattered to them, or intensely worried or sad? Have you witnessed your teen raging about a teacher or poor mark at school, confused and utterly wounded when left out of social events, struggling to get out of bed, or just plain stressed? When our teens experience intense emotions, it can be tough for us as parents. Why? Because emotions are contagious.

When our teens feel their feelings, we are going to feel them too. When we allow ourselves to really listen and feel our feelings alongside our child, we get to experience our own sense of anxiety, shame, and sadness, to name a few. And when this happens, our minds might get busy bringing up memories and images from our own history, so we feel even more intensely – just to add more fuel to our emotional fire. Put simply, when our kids struggle, so do we.

Digging deeper may help you to figure out your own motivation for trying to fix your teens’ feelings and this may in turn, help you to respond differently in the moment. The most common reasons I hear from parents are these:

  1. I love my child and I want to take away their distress.
  2. As a parent, and also as an adult human being, we may not be so comfortable with some emotions, so when they show up in our kids, we want to shut them down, so we don’t feel the feelings.
  3. Wanting to be the best parent we can be, we can take it very personally when our kids struggle. Our minds get busy telling us that we are a ‘bad parent” if our offspring are struggling or are not excelling like everyone else’s kids.
  4. A parent who struggles with anxiety or depression may start to see their teen’s struggles as something bigger and more encompassing than they are in any given moment.

The bottom line is this: teens’ emotions can evoke a lot of intense feelings for parents, and for many reasons, we may want to shut the intensity down, leading to ‘fix it mode.” When we respond with patient listening, compassion, understanding for their situation, and reflect confidence that our teen can manage it, with our help if needed, the pattern may change. When we can do this for our kids, we send them the message that feelings don’t have to be really scary, they may not be pleasant at times, yet we can have them and be ok.

For some teens, emotions may be intense for prolonged periods of time, or are so intense that they can’t function as they otherwise could. If they are struggling to do daily tasks like getting up, going to school, attending to hygiene, eating, or doing fun things like hanging out with friends, there may be something more serious than just stress – it may be time for professional help. As with the other blogs, this does not replace therapy and may or may not apply to your unique circumstances.

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