Adolescent parents are frequently presented with a perplexing series of circumstances. First, teens tell us their issues; second, we provide recommendations and remedies with sincerity; and third, teenagers disregard our ideas as bothersome, irrelevant, or both.
These are the kinds of situations that scream out for connection. Why do they frequently turn sour? Almost always, it’s because we’re not providing adolescents with what they genuinely want. Whether they realize it or not, this is what they most likely desire.
Adolescents, like adults, may find that merely expressing their fears and concerns provides the most relief. Indeed, psychologists have an adage that most issues feel better when they’re on the outside rather than the inside, and this holds true whether the problems are huge or minor.
When teens bring us difficulties, it’s safest to assume that they aren’t inviting recommendations, or that they aren’t inviting them yet. Allow them to express themselves.
“I’ll go to my parents as a sounding board,” says Kathleen Deedy, 18, of Mission Hills, Kan., “particularly if it’s not a big enough issue for me to want to do anything about.” “All I want to do is get it off my chest.”
Adolescents may also discuss their opinions as a method to dump their muddled thoughts on the table, where they may evaluate and possibly order them. “Listing the problem, putting it into words, that helps a lot,” says 15-year-old Isla Steven-Schneider of Emerald Hills, Calif. Adults may assist teens to create the space they need to do this if we remember to listen without interrupting and refrain from adding our own opinions to the pile.
Much of what troubles teens are unsolvable. We can’t mend their shattered hearts, stop their social dramas, or change the fact that they have three major examinations on the same day. But having a problem isn’t nearly as horrible as feeling completely alone in dealing with it.
Teenagers frequently have challenges that they want to share, but not with their peers. They may come to us at these moments, but they are asking for empathy rather than answers. Offering a genuine, “Oh man, that stinks,” or “You have every right to be unhappy,” shows them that we are eager to keep them company in their grief.
To show our support even further, we may ask, “Do you want me to stay nearby, or would some alone time be beneficial?” or “Is there anything I can do to improve things?” These inquiries send a strong message that we are unafraid of the adolescents’ suffering and will stand by them even if there is nothing we can do.
As difficult as it is for parents to refrain from making ideas, doing so risks conveying the message, “You can’t solve this, but I can.” This may appear to our teenagers like a vote of no confidence when all they want is our assurance that they can manage anything life throws at them.
Instead of offering answers, we may offer support to teenagers while they figure things out. “I’ve seen you come through situations like this before,” or “This is tough, but you are, too,” may successfully provide teens perspective and confidence when their own is challenged.
Even kids who have already dealt with an issue may seek our assurance. Kathleen stated that she occasionally informs her parents “about a crisis and what I did to address it” in order to receive confirmation that she made the right decision. When this occurs, she says she’s “not really seeking for their answer, just checking to see if they believe I did the correct thing with my minimal problem-solving skills.”
Providing our teens with an ear, empathy, and encouragement usually gets them what they came for. However, if your teenager is still looking for a solution after that, some counsel may (at long last!) be helpful. Begin by asking your adolescent whether he or she wants assistance in resolving the issue. If you get a yes, break the problem into two categories: what can and cannot be altered.
For the first type, concentrate on the requirements that your adolescent has identified and collaborate to come up with answers. Assist the second kind in accepting the things over which they have no control.