Showing Up for Your Teenager: How Good Intentions Turn Into Frustration And Angst

Do you worry about your teenager making good choices? Do you find yourself concerned about their emotional well-being, friend choice, and ability to handle the upsets of life? Does your teen get frustrated with you when you try to show up for them and offer guidance in these areas?

I hate to break it to you but you may be doing it wrong. Even the best-intentioned parent may not have the skills it takes to connect and show up for their teen in a productive, loving, healthy way.

Whether a parent is caught up in the business of life, career, relationship or is helicoptering by being over protective, each scenario causes upset at a deep emotional level. We all want the best for our children and have images of what the ideal family looks like. However, when the ideal family was not modeled to us in our own family of origin (like most families) it can be a little like doing a dance we don’t know the steps of.

Negative impacts of missing our kids include teenagers that are more self-critical, anxious, or depressed. Kids also function at a lower level, struggle with social issues and lack resilience, perceiving social issues to be more threatening. Over time, this experience may potentially increase anxiety levels in them leading to mental health issues.

What we can do to show up for our teenager?

  • Support your teenager by listening

Hearing your teen is very different than listening. Teens can talk and we can hear them, but many times teens just walk away feeling frustrated, not seen, unheard, understood or validated. It is so much more than just hearing them. Listening involves a practice of closing your mouth, being fully present, hearing what they are saying AND then the most important part comes. After you have heard your teen, Stop! Do NOT offer advice and try to fix the dilemma right away. Think about what you heard. Reflect your understanding. Check in with them. “Kendra, what I heard you say is that you are feeling left out by your friends and you feel sad and lonely. Did I get that right?” Kendra will confirm (and feel understood) or share more to explain what her experience is like.

Follow up with reflecting on what you heard and check in if you have it correct. Sometimes the content our teens share, can scare us. Don’t jump instantly in the enactment and react out of fear. Be an empty vessel of letting your teen pour into you, first.

If your past issues are triggered about your own adolescence, speak with a friend off-line or a therapist. Don’t look at the TV, your phone, your computer or any other source of distraction. Let them know through your actions, that they are the most important part of your world.

  • Support your teenager by not driving their bus

We live in an age, where everyone is trying to get ahead of the other. Parents usually want to see their teens get ahead in this competitive landscape of grades, high steak test scores, college applications and sports to pave the way to what-ever definition of success you ascribe to.

In this effort, we think we know what is best for our teenager and try to command over him or her about what to do and how to do it. Except, when we are trying to drive our teens bus, it NEVER goes as well.

If you believe, you as a parent, hold responsibility at this point of their life, you are wrong! Actually, your teenager is 100% responsible for their life, choices, goals, dreams, actions, grades, scores, feelings and friends. Only they can drive their bus to success. The very moment you try to drive your teen’s bus, you enter into a power struggle or created an environment of helicoptering or dissociation. Whatever be the outcome, the best that you can do for your teenager is to let them drive their own bus. This will yield the greatest success of all.

  • Support your teenager by not jumping in their yard

In the same vein of not driving your teen’s bus, jumping in their yard is an expression that illustrates crossing their boundaries, to offer your advice when it is not invited. Allow the process of differentiation to occur. Allow your teen the opportunity to solve their issues, developing the skill set they will need to navigate the world around them, in future. The scope of this article is not advocating neglecting your teen, but it is advocating the development of healthy family relationships.

How do you do this?

  • Support your teenager by learning how to effectively communicate utilizing reflective listening.
  • Support your teenager by your continual presence and not just by fixing the momentary dilemma.
  • Motivate your teenager by your own example of being grounded, regulated and demonstrating self-care. Model the behavior you want to see.
  • Take discussions and arguments with your spouse to a different location, creating a safe environment at home.
  • Make a vow to not yell, ever. Research shows yelling does nothing but harm the brain and activate the amygdyla.
  • Set expectations and boundaries with logical consequences in a loving and empathetic manner.
  • Do your own work. One of the best ways to help your teenager is to heal old wounds, changing the family legacy.
  • Spend quality time whenever possible, with your teenager doing something they love to indulge in.

Parents of course are doing the best they can, for their teens. The impulses that arise to try to fix an issue and involve ourselves in our teens lives come from love. This period of differentiation and individuation is important to allow them to discover their dreams, goals and personhood. Allow some space for mistakes, fumbles and mishaps, being present for them whenever they really need you. Allow them to face and overcome failure. These are some of the greatest gifts we can give to our kids, as they learn to navigate their own way in life through their newfound sense of courage, strength and resilience.