It can be emotionally difficult for parents to see their teens struggling with problems and keeping it all to themselves. Many teens find it difficult to confide to their parents about their problems for many reasons. It can be frustrating for parents to think about ways to break through the walls they feel their teens have erected between them and encourage them to express their feelings freely.
While it’s understandable for parents to be concerned for their teens’ well-being, going through problems is a normal occurrence in people’s lives. Teens need the emotional space to discover ways to resolve problems. To an extent, letting them handle their own problems can be better for their development than stepping in to solve their problems for them.
When a Parenting Style is More Harmful Than Helpful
Martin Seligman is a psychologist who coined the term “learned helplessness” which applies to both animal and human psychology. It is a condition wherein one has learned to behave helplessly even when something can be done to help one’s self. The theory of learned helplessness views that people can develop a perceived absence of control over situations, leading to clinical depression and (in extreme cases) other mental illnesses.
Teens can encounter a lot of stressors in their everyday lives. Their newly-developed consciousness about their social status, the changing demands of their social life, the increasing school load, rapid physical developments, and much more. Parents have been through this stage before and need to understand that sometimes, the best thing they can do is to just offer their support and love.
Giving Your Teen the Right Kind of Help
Parents can indirectly help their teens solve their problems in many ways. Here are a few suggestions on how to foster trust and encourage communication with your teen:
Confide in them too – There are things that you can share with your teen about the challenges that you face in your life. There are also things about you that you can share with your teen in order for them to get to know you better. Confiding in them doesn’t have to end with a golden nugget of wisdom at the end of every story. You don’t always have to come out as the hero who does everything right.
Teens often admire people who have the courage to admit their mistakes. Just the act of sharing your thoughts to your teen opens the avenues of communication and sends a positive message to them about talking to you. It fosters a family culture of open and honest communication.
Make family time – It’s so easy to make excuses and skip family time, especially when everybody is busy (your teens with school and their social life, and you with work). However, it’s important for teens to develop strong family attachment and one of the most effective ways to do this is to have solid family moments together.
Encouraging your teen to join in the preparation of family dinner, discouraging the use of mobile phones or turning the TV down (or off) while eating together, going with your teen on early morning walks or runs; these are just examples of activities that strengthen the family. When your teen encounters problems, your teen can be more strongly anchored to the family for support.
Make it easy to approach you – As mentioned earlier, teens need the space to discover ways to resolve their problems. If you see your teen struggling with something, approach them and offer your help. Don’t bug them about it, let them work it out. Saying something like, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. If you’re ready to talk, you know I’m always here for you” sends the message that you notice them struggling but you’re giving them the privacy they need, at the same time offering them the option to approach you.
Listen – When they do approach you, listen carefully to your teen’s concern. Don’t railroad them with advice. Rather, help them work through their issues by offering suggestions and opening possibilities that they aren’t seeing. Allow them to talk without fear of being judged or criticized.
There will be issues that require parental intervention, and there are those that can be resolved without it. More than telling them what to do to straighten the problem out, give them your full attention and express your love and acceptance for them.
Working to achieve a closer relationship with your teen is a rewarding process. If teens have a strong home environment, they are less likely to lose their way when they encounter problems. They are more likely to recognize the fact that they have better options to take and feel more comfortable telling their parents about teen problems. They can also gain more problem-solving skills that will be beneficial to them as they eventually step into the threshold of young adulthood.
Caution Against Teen Depression
Some problems just seem to sneak up in families. Parents may sometimes be taken by surprise by them. One such problem may be teen depression, and initially, the symptoms may be so subtle that parents often overlook them or dismiss them as simple teen problems.
If the changes you notice in your teen’s attitude has become consistently more pronounced over a period of time and has begun to affect her life at home and at school, perhaps it is time to consider if it’s teen depression you’re dealing with and not just normal teen problems. Oftentimes, when teens show symptoms of depression, something may have happened at home or in school to cause it. Maybe they are being victimized by bullies, or handling stress poorly, etcetera.
There’s also cases of depression where the person who is depressed cannot explain why he/she is depressed. In such cases, it’s dangerous to wait for things to get better and for the depressed person to pick one’s self up and “decide” to be happy.
In some cases, residential therapy can help. It gives young people a new and positive environment that will be instrumental in their recovery. One of our featured schools can help depressed teens get better and become more emotionally stable.