Worried About Your Child or Teen? 3 Things You Can Do Right Now

GoodTherapy | Worried About Your Child or Teen? 3 Things You Can Do Right Now

I have good news and bad news. People usually want the bad news first, so here goes: You, alone, do not have the power to make your child happy. None of us do. That’s the bad news. Okay, what’s the good news? You hold more power than you think.  

The biggest mistake I see parents making with their children is that they underestimate themselves! You underestimate how needed and wanted you are, and how much of a difference you can make. And if your gut reaction to this is anything along the lines of “No, my kid doesn’t want to talk to me,” or “She just wants to stay in her room”, then I am definitely talking to you.  

Knowing your worth can make a difference for your teenager, and the best news is, you can ‘fake it ’til you make it’ if needed. Here are three steps you can take right now to let go of the power that isn’t yours and harness the power that is: 

Step 1: Assume they need and want your attention

Every time I’m asked the question, “How can you work with teenagers? How do you reach them?” I am reminded of the days I worked with gang-involved youth at an alternative school in Chicago. As I walked through the halls past classroom doors, kids would literally turn to me and shout, “Take me! Take me!” My secret? I assumed they wanted my attention.  

I’m not claiming it was easy. I was trained to ignore the ‘behavioral noise’ — the defenses, the bravado, the defiance, or even the silence. I had to learn to let that roll off. I couldn’t let it hurt my feelings or deter me. My job was to remain present, open, and solicitous. What surprised me most was how quickly the kids could sense that I was for real. They dropped the rebellious act so quickly, and it became very easy to see these kids for exactly who they were: kids 

I know it’s more complicated as a parent. I’m a mom and a stepmom, and I feel the difference. But I promise it’s not that they want or need you any less. In fact, they want their parents even more! But this is why Step 2 is so important. 

Step 2: Listen

If your teenager is reluctant to talk to you, I guarantee it’s not because they don’t care what you think. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s because they care too much about what you think. They know who you are. They know your values, beliefs, and opinions. And for the most part, they are probably well aligned with you. But healthy teens inevitably differ from their parents in some ways, and they need to know you’re okay with that. No matter how much they pretend not to care, I promise they want your blessing.  

So, listen. Get curious. Ask questions about the nuances of what they’re saying. Don’t weigh in, at least not yet. Make it your sole mission to let them know you’ve taken a serious interest in what they’re saying and are taking your time to digest it. Let them know they’ve made you think. It demonstrates your willingness to accept, integrate, and adapt to their differences.  

Step 3: Offer therapy 

 Assuming your teen wants your attention and listening without an agenda will help you harness the power you hold. But what then? What if it’s not enough? Don’t be afraid to offer therapy  

I know I’m biased, but so is everyone. And in my unapologetic opinion, every teen needs therapy. Making sense of the world these days while making sense of oneself is an overwhelming task for even the most mature adults. And when we are overwhelmed, we tend to break down in any number of ways. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and everything else are a result of kids not having the ability to process the stressors in their lives. Therapy is for processing. It can alleviate symptoms, but it can also be preventative.  

The Takeaway 

The biggest problem between teens and their parents comes down to this: They love each other so much it can be paralyzing. Teens care so much about their parents’ approval, that they’re afraid to fully share themselves. And parents care so much about their teens’ well-being, they’re afraid to get involved and mess it up.  

As the parent, you need to be brave and disrupt this cycle. I can’t promise it won’t be messy, but I can promise that letting go of the fears and embracing the mess will lead to a stronger connection between you and your teen. And a stronger connection with you will directly affect their overall well-being.  

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