When I tell people I love my therapeutic work with teenagers struggling with depression, anxiety, self harm, suicidality, substance abuse or PTSD, from most people I typically get a grim face and equally grim response of “Well, I could never do that…” Guess what? Though they are older chronologically, in many ways they are gifted with the same intuitive nature as children and can sense that lack of desire to engage with them just because they are, well, teenagers. And I get it: teens can be moody, irrational, selfish and at times, just plain confusing. Try these four quick tips to nurture a relationship with a teen in your life and I promise, you’ll get why I love my work with them.
1. Hormones Reign Supreme. Remember the “terrible twos”? Some days do you feel like you’re reliving this stage with your teenager? Believe it or not, I see hormones playing a part in mood issues such as depression in preteens as early as 10 years old. If you notice your typically calm, well rounded young man is becoming tearful and angry for unknown reasons and at what appears to be in no real pattern, first ensure there’s nothing else going on (bullying at school or online, abuse in any form, etc) then consider that puberty is beginning and your love and support (despite at times some confusion and frustration) is needed most now.
2. Boundaries are Boss. So often I see parents leaning one way or the other when it comes to boundaries at home. They either are extremely strict, limiting everything in sight so that teens feel suffocated and long to rebel or allowing everything to such an extent that the teens safety is at risk because of the lack of guidance. As with everything else, aim for moderation and pick your battles. Want to enforce curfew? Go for it. Irritated by the skinny jean fad but really don’t care either way what your teen wears? Let it go. I promise you, it’s way more important to them than it is to you.
3. Let Them Rule. To a certain extent, allowing them self expression through safe, non permanent ways (i.e. a streak of pink in their hair, their clothing choices, joining a club, etc) allows them freedom to be who they are without feeling unaccepted by the people that they yearn for acceptance from most in the world. Also, it helps them discover their own identify in safe ways at home before the real world becomes their teacher. Having a conversation with your teen about why they want to do something might enlighten you to some good reasonings behind their desired choices in ways that simply saying “No,” may never yield.
4. Respect. So many parents come into my office in initial sessions insisting that their teen is “disrespectful and rude”. But the person I have in my office is open, honest, not only respectful but downright delightful. Why the change? Two main reasons. One is that kids know inherently that parents must love them no matter how they act but strangers? Not so much. So they act their best in public and save the drama for you at home. Great! That means they feel safest to be themselves with you. But just like anywhere else in the world, to be respected you must in turn do the same. Take caution for your tone and wording when speaking to your child. You might be surprised at how a little change in your approach helps model for them the exact behavior you’re looking for in them.