I know I have been writing a fair amount about working with children lately, but I also work with teens, and I wanted to share a concern that their parents often have. We all know teens are raging with hormones that are super confusing, but that doesn’t make it any less hurtful when they jump down our throats about a seemingly small thing. If you feel like your teen snaps at the drop of a hat about little things, read on…
#1: It’s not little to your teen. What may seem like a benign issue to you is a huge deal. Whether they did their homework is a dig to their ability to be responsible, ‘how was your day’ is met with a thought that ‘you couldn’t possibly understand!’ (see #3). So first, I want you to recognize that your teen is struggling with how to balance independence and needing you to help them meet their goals. This is a tough challenge for the adolescent brain.
#2: Don’t tell your teen what to do when they come to you with a problem. “Have you tried…xyz” is bound to be met with a “YES MOM! ARGH!” Your teen wants to be listened to, not offered solutions, EVEN IF they come to you saying “I don’t know what to do”. ? That doesn’t mean I want you to clam it. Try this instead: if you’re wondering if they’ve tried a solution, flip your question on it’s head: “What have you tried so far to fix it?” This leaves your teen with the ability to take responsibility and share how hard they’ve tried. Give them a minute if they first say “nothing”… they may be too overwhelmed to think.
#3: Don’t reassure them. WHAT?!? It’s your job to help your child feel safe and I’m telling you not to tell them everything is going to be ok?? YUP. Sit in that uncomfy feeling for a minute. ?Your teen doesn’t believe you when you say it (see #1), so it’s not meaningful. Instead, say “You’re wondering if you’ll find a solution”. You’re naming your teen’s thoughts. mic drop.
#4. Validate. Do stuff like I just said above: repeat what your teen is feeling and help them feel like it makes sense to have these feelings given their experiences.
#5. Help them learn to not make things worse with rash decisions. In my teen group that starts in October we will cover over and over again how to not make things worse when your teen feels big feelings. Teens benefit most from learning with/from their peers (back to that brain science stuff: the teenage brain is wired to prioritize social acceptance over ALL ELSE) so group therapy is actually more effective than individual alone for adolescents. Learn more about what we’ll cover here: