Helping Our Teens Deal with Painful Peer Relationships
- Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Preparing my daughter’s lunch, I froze at the retching noises emanating from the bathroom. She was vomiting. Again. This had become part of her morning routine, and no, she wasn’t bulimic. She’d grown so anxious for what she expected to encounter at school; her stomach went into revolt.
Whether outright bullying, hurtful friendships, or just plain dealing with the ups and downs of high school, my daughter deals with countless relational conflicts daily. When this happens, the protector in me slips into fight or flight mode. I either want her to fight back or avoid the situation entirely. But then, God gently tugs at my heart, reminding me there’s much more at stake than who she sits by at lunch, how many snide comments her friend makes, or who whispers lies behind her back.
Although some situations may warrant quick adult intervention, my ultimate goal as a parent is not to shelter her from the world, but rather, to train her to stand strong in it. By viewing every situation from a long-term perspective, engaging her in conversation, and using each relational conflict as a learning opportunity, I can help alleviate some of her angst while training crucial life skills. More than that, I can show her what it means to find wisdom from and seek strength in her Savior.
Dealing with difficult relationships effectively begins with an honest evaluation of the situation, the “offending” individual, and oneself. Ultimately, my daughter must retain responsibility for her behavior while releasing responsibility for others'.
I want her to understand it’s not always about her.
Countless things affect human behavior, from lack of sleep to emotional trauma. As adults, we know this because we’ve lived it. A frustrating meeting or encounter can sour our day and an unexpected trial can turn our normal cheerfulness into tears and emotional outbursts. Now consider these same trials from the perspective of an emotionally and socially immature teenager. They’re going to say and do irrational and hurtful things.
The problem is, our teenagers have a tendency to interpret everything as being somehow related to or caused by them.
“I think every teen and even adults struggle with this,” says Derrick Robison, Youth Pastor of Life Point Church in Stratford, OK. “We live in a culture where everything is self-centered. For example, if my wife is upset because she had a bad day, that thought doesn’t come to mind most of the time. My thoughts are, ‘What did I do? Why is she upset with me?’”
I’ve seen evidence of this with my daughter. That friend who scowled during lunch and suddenly turned distant—they must hate her, right? Or at the very least, have been angry at her for something.
And yet, I know it’s equally plausible that the friend’s behavior is caused by something else entirely.
Most teens know this on a rational level, but recalling that information in the middle of a conflict is another matter. My role, then, is to remind my daughter of this routinely, helping her to sift their encounters through this realization.
In fact, Christ longs for her—for all of us—to take our focus off ourselves entirely. “When we accept Christ as Lord and Savior, he transforms and renews our mind,” Robison says. “The selfish being within is transformed. We become more like him, and Christ came to serve. The mindset of ‘What can I get out of this?’ goes away and the new mindset of ‘How can I serve?’ takes its place.’ So when one of our friends gives us a dirty look or ignores us, our thought process should be, ‘Man, I wonder what they’re going through and how I can pray for them.’”
This type of thinking, of sifting every encounter through God’s perspective, doesn’t happen naturally, but it can be learned. When my daughter faces conflict, through engaged conversation, I help her herself the emotions and motives of her offender. I remind her:
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