by Dawn Lyons
If you have ever found yourself, or another parent saying things like, “I can’t believe he’s acting this way,” or “it’s just not like her to do that,” this column is for you.
Please read on and read carefully. And you’ll have to forgive me a bit because this one is quite personal.
In the same way so many adults brush off the honest concerns and stresses of teenagers as something that will pass, many parents are apt to feel confused, frustrated and disappointed by their teen’s behaviour and possibly attempt to force them to stop or change what they are doing but if unsuccessful, will often sit back and wait for this ‘phase’ to pass.
Certainly, there are phases that come and go in the teen years, but when should parents stop and think that their teen might be experiencing something that is causing them to act in a certain manner, for which they might need some support instead of simply the guilt of parental disappointment? While it’s simple to shake heads in frustration and roll eyes at situations that adults perceive as insignificant, it is probable that very little that the teen is experiencing feels insignificant to them.
I recently came across some journal-type writings my mother kept during my late teen years. Statements similar to the ones used at the beginning of this column were there, along with particularly poignant heartbreakers such as, “I am not impressed – and her father wouldn’t be, either!”
My father had died unexpectedly only a year or two prior to the time she was writing. And while I managed not to fall onto the dark and negative paths I could have easily chosen, there were things I did that certainly weren’t things my mother would have wanted me to do. But when I saw her words and thought about the girl I was at that time, it upset me that my mother would have chosen to be disappointed and upset with me instead of if not offering, at least realizing that I needed help.
Was the drop in marks a result of suddenly not caring about my academic performance? Or was it due to the fact I was grieving? Or was it because I wasn’t sleeping? Did she even know I wasn’t sleeping? The unhealthy relationships may have been due to the fact I had zero perception of self-worth, was embarrassed about what had happened to my family and afraid that my mother would never be able to care about anything or anyone the way she had for my father.
Maybe I stopped confiding in her because she proved, repeatedly, that I could not trust her. I was alone. I was worthless. I was helpless.
It was a dark time that I don’t like to focus on, but that was my reality then. Equally a reality is the fact that I would have found the door to the light a lot sooner if my experience had not been brushed off as “a bad teen phase” or a “she’ll get over it, but I sure am disappointed” insignificance. The truth of the matter is that everything, whether it seemed small or large to others seemed massive to me.
The test, the assignment, the friend who proved I was unimportant to them, the aunt who told me I had no right to grieve, the boy I truly loved and the boy I forced myself to love instead, the pressure of deciding what path to take after high school – it all weighed on me like a massive boulder constantly being lowered by a crane I couldn’t control.
So, for any parents who are shaking their heads about their teen’s apparent objectionable behaviour, take some time and think about what has been going on in your teen’s life, both inside and outside of your home. Ask others involved in your teen’s life – other family members, coaches, teachers if they have noticed any changes or anything unusual, and inquire if anything has changed in the corresponding environments. You may discover the problem is something deeper and more concerning to your teen than you expected and simply requires some careful attention and assistance from the right individual.
By all means, talk to your teen but don’t make it feel like they are under attack. That will push them farther away or father along the path you don’t want them to travel. Demonstrate that you’re interested in what is going on in their life – at school, at work, with their friends and relationships but without being pushy. If you let them know you are there and available to help without passing judgment, your teen is more likely to feel they can trust you.
You can also show you trust them by telling a personal story of your own that helps your teen realize you may have a sense of what they are going through. And if the situation is so tense that you don’t believe there is any way they would communicate with you, tell them there are other ways they can express their needs and get help with their problems.
They may feel safe talking to another adult they know, or they may be more comfortable using a service such as Kids Help Phone, which allows them to be anonymous and talk to someone they don’t interact with. They may find this less embarrassing or uncomfortable.
The moral of my story is to not discount what your teen is doing. Actions are often reactions, which means they are a response to something. Maybe that something and its corresponding effects are things your teen needs help to work through.
Dawn Lyons is a mother to three boys and a professional freelance writer. She is passionate about empowering teens to create their own success and also helps adults who influence youth development to have a greater understanding of teen culture. Follow her on Twitter and visit her at www.linesbylyons.com.