By: Dr. Erica Wollerman
Since we work often with teens and their parents at Thrive, I wanted to spend some time sharing more about what I observe about how our current culture impacts teens (and their parents). Apparently, what I was hoping to share can’t be expressed in just one blog post so I am planning a series all about teens and parenting teens!
This blog series was particularly inspired by some of my conversations recently with my teen clients about how challenging it feels to be a teen in our world. With the pressure of social media, super competitive college admissions, the focus on happiness but also achievement, and increased anxiety and fear – it is genuinely a tough time to be a teen. What I also know is that it is a tough time to be a parent of a teen. I would say that as relentless as the pressures are of adolescence, the pressure on parents is equally relentless! Unfortunately, this leads to patterns and cycles of stress just being transferred back and forth between teens and their parents. Before we talk more about the specific pressures on teens that I am noticing, I wanted to share my thoughts about what teens need most from their parents. It also might be helpful to check out my past posts about the pressures of parenting a teen and tips for parents of teens!
1. Love and Acceptance
While many teens become awfully prickly and interactions with them can be challenging for parents, teens genuinely need love, acceptance, and a true sense of belonging from their parents. It’s important to remember that teens struggle with parental authority often because they are trying to figure out how to be their own person and grow away from their family to be on their own as adults. This is difficult and can be reminiscent of the toddler years. Mixed messages are common, as are outward rejections of parents while deep down wanting love, approval, kindness, and affection. It is so important that parents follow their teen’s lead but also provide them with a safe place for them to find genuine caring connections. Even if it gets you an eye roll or irritated glare, show them love and truly try to accept them for who they are becoming. Talk to them about common interests and just ask questions without lecturing or slipping into “parent mode.” Often the teens I work with just want an adult who cares and tries to see it from their side without immediately trying to fix it or tell them the “learning opportunity” in each situation.
Teens will never, ever tell you but they definitely need boundaries. They need to be able to experiment with things in the world but to have parents who hold them accountable. While I am not a big fan of parents coming down too hard about grades (our academic system is stressful enough for most kids), I do think that most teens need some responsibilities at home. It’s important to learn to pitch in as a family and to learn how to manage personal and academic responsibilities. Make sure that the boundaries you set in place make sense and have some sort of natural consequences. For example, if a teen is struggling to make it home on time/before curfew, maybe they lose their driving privileges for a while. This helps them to learn that privileges involve responsibility which will help them know their limits as well as understand cause and effect in our world. Adults who did not have boundaries during childhood tend to not be the best employees or students later in life.
Do you remember just how difficult and confusing it can be to be a teenager? I certainly do and hold that experience in mind when I work with my teen clients and explore situations that are difficult for them as often what teens need from us is a little empathy. Even if our lives are more stressful or difficult as adults who have a zillion more responsibilities, remember that what they are experiencing is so important to them and genuinely difficult. Part of this is because they only have limited life experience and have difficulty comprehending that their life will not be this way forever. I’ll discuss the gift of perspective more in the next section. Future blogs in this series will also describe the challenges of being a teen currently that we might not always understand as adults who grew up in a very different environment.
I see one of the biggest challenges of being a teen currently is that they genuinely do not know that life is so much more than high school, or what college you go to, or if you have a “thing” with the cute person at school. Teens are amazing because they experience the world very intensely and passionately but this brings the challenge that since they have not had years to adjust to being a more adult like person, like we have all had, they do not realize that their current situation is not everything. I believe a gift we can give them is just a little perspective. And not in terms of telling them how hard adulthood can be, but in terms of helping them know that our lives are always changing and that most experiences are temporary in nature and will not last forever. This is a concept that is much more available to our adult brains than theirs.
Oh boy do teens need space. They need so many forms of space – space to be themselves and experiment with who they are and want to be; space to make mistakes and totally screw up without us preventing it; space to cope on their own and exist without parent involvement sometimes; space to make their own decisions; and space to change. The more we can let our teens guide things, within certain boundaries and limits of course, the better. They just need a lot of space as they walk their path into adulthood and the more we can give them now, the better they will do on their own later in life. Plus, the less we push our values, goals, judgments, etc. on them, the more likely it is that they will reach back out to us when they are ready.
I hope you enjoyed the first blog in this series all about parenting teens and the challenges of teens! Please stay tuned for more blogs to come on this topic and reach out to us at Thrive if you would like support in parenting your teen!
At Thrive, we take a positive, client centered approach to therapy that is focused on creating a genuine connection with our clients. If you would like to talk with a Thrive Therapist about yourself, your child, or teen attending therapy, please reach out to us by phone at 858-342-1304.
As always, thanks for reading and comments are always welcome regarding any issues around child or teen psychotherapy services in San Diego by Thrive Therapy Studio.
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Watch your words,
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Watch your habits,
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