Whenever I am describing the general signs and symptoms of anxiety, parents of adolescents look more confused – because so often the description fits with the “new” child they are living with. Changes in mood and intensity, different sleeping and eating patterns, high irritability, withdrawing from previously enjoyed family activities and so on. But does this mean that every teen experiences anxiety? Well to a degree, yes. If we stop to think about what that the young person is going through, it makes complete sense.
So often, the period of adolescence is describing in such negative terms, using words such as ‘crazy’, ‘ dramatic’ or ‘ impossible’ to describe the young person and with a sense of pity for the parents having to suffer through it and dread if you are yet to go through it. Very little sympathy or acknowledgement is given to the child who is going through a period marked by dramatic change, physically, emotionally and mentally, in a fairly short space of time, with very little control or even understanding of it all. I know it’s hard not to react and even feel hurt by the regular eye rolling, door slamming and general perception that whatever you say is wrong, but adolescents really do need our compassion now more than ever. The pressures and expectations they are facing feel more intense and with mental health issues on the increase, we need to find ways to support them.
In my work it’s a privilege to have a glimpse of the adolescent’s world, because they can become quite reluctant to share with the adults around them. At the same time parents are often feeling quite unprepared for how to navigate this new chapter – when to say no, when to let go, when to worry... While there is no manual that covers everything about your specific child, there are 2 fantastic books that I recommend- “Untangled” by Lisa Damour, relating to adolescent girls and “Raising Cain” by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, which addresses boys. Both can help parents get a clearer picture of what the teen is going through and to put their behaviour into context.
Next week, I will be holding a talk on Adolescent Girls. You are invited to attend the event, or watch it live on Facebook. As an introduction I thought I would share 3 insightful quotes from Lisa Damour:
“Consider the metaphor in which your teenage daughter is a swimmer, you are the pool in which she swims, and the water is the broader world. Like any good swimmer, your daughter wants to be out playing, diving, or splashing around in the water. And, like any swimmer, she holds on to the edge of the pool to catch her breath after a rough lap or getting dunked too many times…..but like a swimmer who gets her breath back, your daughter wants to return to the water, and she gets there by pushing off the side of the pool.”
This is so helpful in understanding the pain involved on both sides – separation, confusion, fear of not managing or getting left out. Remember, just recently you had a little child, that begged for more cuddles, or always wanted to be around you, so now when they ‘kick’ away, almost as if they were allergic to you, it’s an adjustment for you too. The parents’ role is so important during this stage – to remain solid, stable and consistent, and to remind yourself that is not a rejection of you, but rather how they start to discover who they are.
“Teenagers often manage their feelings by dumping the uncomfortable ones on their parents… by getting their parents to have the feelings instead. In other words, they toss you an emotional hot potato”
During adolescence, the teenage brain is rapidly changing, and as a result their emotional reactions are more heightened – they are not just being dramatic, they actually feel things more intensely than adults or younger children. And as confusing as it is for you, it is more confusing and overwhelming for them! So sometimes, without them even being aware of it, they try get rid of those feelings by passing it on to you, the parent. While not always easy or fair, it makes things more manageable for the teen, until they have developed further skills to manage their ‘potato’ on their own.
“You have three jobs: to alert your daughter to the fact that she has an inner compass, to support her in asking for what she wants, and to make sure she knows how to express what she doesn’t want.”
While previously parents were responsibility for the majority of decisions in a child’s life, as the teen grows, they want to be more in control of things. While we don’t automatically hand over all the reins of power, we do need to be making that shift as the end goal of adolescence is complete independence. How we best support our teens is by educating and guiding them on the importance of self care. This is applicable to all forms of self care, whether it’s relating to food, sexual behaviours, drinking, drugs, digital technology, peers, school, taking an uber etc. When discussing the topics with your teen, you can focus your concerns on the risks associated with such behaviour, and weight up options you both feel comfortable with but keeping judgments and criticism out of the equation. This allows them to learn valuable tools to use WHEN (not if) they get faced with difficult decisions and need to decide for themselves.
And self care beings with modelling it yourself. I always encourage parents to find support for themselves, in friends, family or professionals. With kindness, compassion and patience (and definitely some laughter), adolescence can actually be an overall positive experience – a time where you get to discover a whole new side of your child, a new side to yourself and a greater depth to your relationship.
Don’t forget to join me on Wednesday 2nd of May at 8pm for the discussion. Click here to register