Most of us love a night out at the movies.  Entertainment on the big screen is a great escape.  A talented director can weave a story that completely draws us in, holds us in suspense, makes us laugh, and helps us forget about life’s problems for a few hours.  But the drama of life doesn’t stop once the movie ends.

Fiction consumes ninety minutes, but reality sets in the moment we step outside the theatre!

More than fifty kids live on the Heartlight campus at any given time.  And as I interact with these treasured students, I’m reminded that teens love drama.  In fact, they surround themselves in drama.  Teens are drawn to the display of emotions, the rise and fall of conflict, the tension between a protagonist and the antagonist, and all the twists and turns in their personal plot.  Whether it’s science fiction, mystery, comedy, or documentary … drama is big for kids.

Movies would be boring without these factors.  Drama draws and demands our attention.  Kids are the same way.  They perform.  They magnify things.  They embellish their stories.  They are crying out for people to look at them.  The essence of drama is conflict, so when kids look for attention, they often use conflict as a means to get it.

The problem is that once we respond to that drama, we often become part of it.  Unwittingly, we get sucked in.  Hey, this is your teen we’re talking about.  He or she knows exactly what buttons to push that incite your emotion.  Right?  It’s tempting to respond by matching, or increasing, the level of conflict.  And the result is always the same:  a virtual meltdown between child and parent.  Once we get hooked into his or her emotion, we can become defensive … only adding fuel to the fire.

So, how do you respond to your teen without getting into repetitive conflict?  How do you resist giving him the kind of attention he is looking for?

The tendency that most of us have is to stop the drama.  That’s like putting a Band Aid on a bullet wound.  It stops the bleeding for a moment, but before long, teens will find a different way to express their frustration or pain.  Isolation, cutting, withdrawal, and rebellion are only a few of the options that teens may use as a substitute.  Believe it or not, guiding their theatrical outbursts may be the healthiest way to allow a teen to express their emotions.

Think of it like an improv show.  Improv gives actors freedom to come up with lines on their own, but that freedom is tempered by one person who provides prompts, props and directions in the moment.  You can’t write a script for your child to follow, but if you are there to help control the way that the drama is let out, they can use it in a healthy way.  The way that you do this is by engaging them in conversation.  Keep the dialogue going and allow your teen to share his true feelings.  This refereed encounter will enable you to work toward successfully diffusing the situation.

Once you step in to the conversation, you can either create more drama by playing the part, or you can help your child move closer to you in relationship by allowing them to express their deepest feelings.  I can’t tell you how often I have wanted to send a teen to his room after a conflict.  It’s a tempting way to cut off the struggle, but it doesn’t work.  When we stop the fight by cutting off the flow of conversation, we lose our opportunity to influence the relationship and to influence the child.  Whether that’s because your child is confined to his room or because he is giving you the silent treatment, you can’t influence a relationship that you’re not engaged in.