Parenting anxious teenagers

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“To be in your children’s memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today”

When it comes to parenting an insecure adolescent, our common instinct is to predict which circumstances will be challenging and then attempt to make them simpler. To make our children safe and content, we want to be able to monitor the results. Much of this is motivated by compassion, but we are failing to provide our children with the grit they need to become resilient adults (Lythcott-Haims, 2015). Our innate instinct is to try to improve it, but the days of kissing it and making it perfect are long gone. For now, our responsibility is to assist our teenagers in “figuring it out” when they are both in our possession and in our house.

We can’t forecast the future, even though we have more life experience and a reasonable chance of anticipating how those events will turn out. Our worried teenagers want us to console them and relieve them of their worries. However, this causes young men and women to become consumed and incapacitated by their anxiety because they can’t sit with the pain of “not learning.” Since their infancy, our aim as parents has been to make it easier for them, but at some stage in their growth, our perspective must change. Use this as your mantra: by giving support in the moment, you are providing consolation for your child in the short term, but not in the long run. Use this as your mantra: by giving support in the moment, you are providing consolation for your child in the short term, but not in the long run.

When our teen has a problem or a question, they always come to us for assistance, and our normal reaction is to advise them what to do, how to do it, or even do it for them.

Are we doing this to relieve our own or their anxiety? Maybe a little bit of both, but our adolescent does not emerge from the situation with any problem-solving skills. The reality is that our adolescent hasn’t worked through a crisis, and once they have, she won’t have the skills or motivation to deal with tough circumstances involving peers, academics, sports, or anything else.

As guardians, this is a difficult transition. Our instinct is high, particularly when you have a young man or woman who seems to be an adult but is emotionally terrified or vulnerable, and we want to keep our children protected, both emotionally and physically. Your mantra should be that your child’s short-term frustration would contribute to long-term problem-solving capacity and trust.

Don’t…

Say, “Don’t worry about it. It will be fine,” 

Don’t Make Any Promises

Don’t Fix It.

Don’t Respond with High Emotion.

Do ask and validate…

• “How do you think you want to spend your time?”

•“Have you ever seen yourself in a position like this?”

• “What do you think he or she would say?”

• “Can you think about something else?”

• “In this case, what are your options?”

• “How may I assist you?”

Validate your work.

• “I’m concerned about your welfare.”

• “I love you/you are loved.”

• “You are reasonable.”

• “You have a lot of imagination.”

• “You have a great sense of humor.”

• Sorry for the inconvenience. That sounds like a really trying day.”

• “It sounds like it was a difficult situation to deal with.”

• “You seem to have treated the case well.”

• “I like the way you handled the case.”

Tell them just how you felt about their efforts. Too many of us are eager to deliver generic compliments. Our children develop a false sense of pride and believe that they are worthy to persistent positive reinforcement. It has never been easy to raise a teenager. It’s demanding, there are a lot of feelings involved, and there are a lot of queries. But it’s still pretty fun to see our teenagers develop into these cool people with whom we want to spend time and tell stories.

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