By Crystal Hubbell, LPCC-S
I first want to say that even after five children, I don’t think I am an expert, but after 8 years of therapy, 5 children and being a teen myself, I feel I do have some insight to what they are feeling and going through. Maybe that is why I like working with teens so much. If you ask my children, they hated talking to me, they said I used therapy terms on them such as, “tell me about”, “so you are saying” and “you must be feeling”. My children didn’t like this, but they are useful phrases for my office and teens that visit me.
First, when I was a teen, I did not get along with my folks. I was part of a blended family and of course, nothing was ever fair. I fought with my mother, my step siblings, my father and his wife, my stepfather. I felt I had no friends, did terrible in school, was chronically depressed, and even wanted to end my life and thought about suicide often. I had an eating disorder, hated myself, low self esteem and felt nobody understood me. I had suffered several instances of sexual trauma, sexual abuse and bullying from others and thought I was the stupidest person on earth. So, when a parent said things like “ snap out of it”, “when I was your age….” “you are so negative”…I knew they didn’t get it or understand.
With my own children, I remembered this and tried to be there for them, and then I found myself saying the same things, “Why are you so negative?”, “Life is short”, “smile”, “life isn’t that bad”. I tried to empathize with them and tried to let them know I understood, but like my parents, I really didn’t. I made assumptions that I knew, I closed myself off to their emotional needs thinking their experiences were just as mine were. What I didn’t realize until I started counseling teens, was that every year teen experiences change, new things exist, challenges change, people change and life changes. The things I experienced are much different than the things my children experience. Every year my kids were teens, they each experienced it differently. Not only are the experiences different, each personality is affected differently.
I started to really have an extreme love for teens in my counseling office. I started to really bond with them quickly and my empathy grew for this age group. Now when I see teens, I get it, and I understand things I never even understood with my own children. Parents ask me all the time, “are they bipolar” “will they ever go back to normal” “is he/she different than everyone else”. Most of the time I can say, “No, they aren’t bipolar, they are just experiencing emotions through their personality in their lifetime issues”
Why are things so hard? I don’t know if things are harder than they were when I was a teen, but because we aren’t a teen in this hard time, we can’t understand things or compare them to when we were teens. We must be able to bend our beliefs and knowledge to include the issues that are of today into what the teen is experiencing. When a teen says, “You just don’t get it” or “You don’t understand” chances are, you are comparing their life to your own, and you really don’t get it.
What can you do? Below are a few things to try to help build a stronger connection with your teen.
Try to sit and listen and not say anything, just listen. Things you can say to show you are listening are; “I hear you saying”, “tell me more”, “it sounds tough”
Do you not use the word “Why”? This word makes kids feel stupid. They assume you don’t trust them, and you think they have made a bad mistake and there is no turning back. Instead say something like, “Help me understand” or “what can I do to help?”
Don’t judge. It is possible your teen is experiencing something you have no idea about. Again, ask, “help me understand”.
Seek professional help from a good counselor. There is nothing wrong with seeking a therapist, they may have different insight that you do and offer some skills for the family that is helpful during the teen’s life. Getting counseling doesn’t make you weak, it means you are strong. Almost all our therapist here have gotten therapy at some point in their lives.
Have patience, this too will pass. Your teen is developing into a young lady or young man and you have an opportunity to put your fingerprint on their life. Being patient with their mood swings, crazy ideas and strange issues, makes it easier for them to need and trust you later. This is the time for YOU to be the hero and let them be them.