The first time you hold your child in your arms, you are changed forever as a human being. If you have made the decision to adopt, or have been chosen as the caretaker for a young life, you experience the same feelings of love and responsibility mixed into one. You will do anything in your power to protect the child before you.
in the blink of an eye, they grow into teenagers. And the feeling to protect them at all costs has not changed- it’s just a bit harder to create the connection. You may have forgotten your own teenage days. Naturally, your brain has done some growing since then. You might remember some fond memories, and even regret some unwise decisions from your teenage years. But, it is hard for you to really understand the logic behind some of your teen’s choices.
You are not alone! The number of teenagers experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation has increased significantly since the pandemic and we are facing a crisis that needs immediate attention. Except, your teen says- no. No, I will not go to therapy- and you can’t make me. Now what?
Here are some tips that can help you bridge the ever widening gap between you and your teen.
1. You know what they say about the oxygen mask in the plane? It applies here, too. You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else. What does that mean? It means that if you are feeling overwhelmed and out of control, you will not be able to help your teenager regulate themselves. So, start with your own counseling. You can seek out a family therapist or someone who works with teens and parents so they can offer the professional advice you are looking for to help your teen. Setting a good example for self-care will help your teen see how counseling can help change someone effectively.
2. Do not get into a power struggle with a teenager. Do not get into a power struggle with a teenager. Do not get into a power struggle with a teenager. Forcing your teen to do what you say is not a successful way to bridge the gap. The goal is not compliance, it is compassion. Teenagers are going through a number of biological, psychological, and social changes. It is developmentally appropriate for them to be exploring their independence and identity outside of parents. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC548185/table/tbl2/?report=objectonly) Stay realistic with your expectations. Remember the prefrontal cortex, in charge of logic and executive functioning, is not developed until the mid twenties. Do not expect a teenager to understand things the way that you do. It is actually not possible- yet.
3. Start with the abc’s. Teenagers are looking for agency, belonging and connectedness.
Agency is their ability to have a voice and choice in the things that are happening to them. Perhaps you can find a way to involve them in the process of choosing a counselor - pressure free. For example- let’s just go through this website and read some bios. If someone sounds interesting, we can call and if not, then we will not.
Belonging is the feeling of acceptance, respect, inclusion and support in the family. This isn’t always easy because it is hard to see things from the teenage perspective. What matters is that your teenager feels heard, validated, and seen by you and other family members. Coming up with a simple protocol for communication can be helpful. Using a talking stick so everyone gets to speak, one at a time is helpful. Steering clear of comments that insinuate that one party is right while the other is wrong is a good place to start. A rule like- we are all allowed to feel and think different things, and we are here to support each other and listen to one another could go a long way for communication.
Connectedness means that your teenager feels like there is an adult in the family who cares about them as an individual. Connectedness can also be to a community. Having a supportive peer group can help teenagers feel connected to something outside of themselves. This can be in the form of a sport or club. Finally, a pro-social activity that makes your teen feel like they are helping others directly or indirectly can have a positive impact on their feeling of connectedness.
What your amazing teenager needs more than anything is to feel safe and secure to explore this- weird- stage of life. Grant them patience and grace, and your understanding ear. And, grant yourself grace as well. You care and you are navigating one of the most difficult times in life with the child you love.
If you are concerned about your teenager committing suicide, please call the suicide hotline at 988 and ensure that your teenager knows this number as well.
By Sheena Lall, LGPC
Counseling Associate at Shrink Me Not