There’s nothing worse than seeing your child in pain, except perhaps, seeing their pain and not knowing how to deal with it. This is especially hard when dealing with teens. Often, our parental hearts motivate us to draw near in an attempt to comfort them. But what happens when they don’t let us?
When our teenagers get angry, irritated, or withdrawn, showing support can be difficult. We might even misread their behavior, viewing their behavior as defiance instead of a cry for help.
According to experts, depressed teens behave differently than one might expect. In fact, they might appear rebellious, disrespectful, and callus. And we might be tempted to react—to correct, to get angry, to rebuke, and pull away.
But what they need is for us to draw near, to nurture an environment of open communication. They need us to clearly express that we are for them, not against them.
Fostering an atmosphere of open communication between you and your teen is tough. It takes time and wisdom. There are so many ways to hinder communication. Our role is to work on eliminating communication-stoppers while creating a safe environment where communication can flourish.
There is a fine balance between fostering a close-relationship and being a push over parent. A balance that takes daily prayer to achieve. The solution lies, it seems, in how we present ourselves. Even while correcting, we can convey one of two attitudes: “I am for you”, or, “I am against you.”
If we’re for our teen, we’ll take the time to listen—truly listen.
This is a hard one. As parents, we want to fix everything, and there may be times we need to do this, but we may need to separate our “fixing” times from our communication times. We also need to be careful not to pass judgment on our teen's emotions. The moment we do, we erect a barrier to communication.
Here’s an example—one I failed at. In June, my daughter invited a friend to stay with us for two weeks. During that time, I drove them around our city looking for various things for them to do. One day, we got lost. Horribly lost, wasting time and gas. Glancing in my rearview mirror, I watched their faces fall. Of course I felt terrible, like I had disappointed them.
But then I got irritated and started making judgments on their feelings. How could they be disappointed? I’d spent all week driving them around, had given them money to spend. Weren’t they appreciative?
Yes, but they were disappointed, a natural emotion. What happened was, I became uncomfortable with their emotions. Largely because I personalized them—owned them. You see, it wasn’t about us being lost. Suddenly, it was because I got us lost. In essence, I felt as if I caused their disappointment. This feeling of guilt triggered a desire for action. I wanted to “fix” it. I couldn’t, so, I leaped to defense-mechanism number two—irritation. I began to judge and minimize their emotions, which led to increased tension and communication barriers.
I should’ve empathized with their feelings instead.
Although my example dealt with a fairly minor irritation, the principle applies to all ranges of emotions our teens face. As parents, we need to learn to separate emotions from behaviors. We need to understand emotions are not sinful or wrong. Ever. They merely are. It is the expression of those emotions that can become sinful.
Some emotions are more intense than others. Sometimes a hug, listening ear, and supportive prayer provides the support our teens need. Other times, we may need to seek help. Regardless, the initial answer is the same:
1. Recognize anger and irritation might be a sign of sadness or depression.
2. Encourage open communication and avoid communication barriers.
3. Let your teen know you are for them, not against them, and that you will help them through this.
4. Never judge their emotions. Instead, validate them.
5. Separate emotions from behaviors. Emotions are never sinful or wrong. It is what we do with them that creates sin.
6. Get help when needed.
Above all else, pray—often and fervently. God created your child, emotions and all. He is the only One who can see into the depths of their heart, and He alone knows the solution to whatever they are facing. He will guide us toward that solution. Our role, then, is to trust and obey.
Jennifer Slattery lives in the midwest with her husband and their teenage daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, the ACFW Journal, the Christian Pulse, and Internet Cafe Devotions. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and compilation projects. Visit her online at Jennifer Slattery Lives Out Loud.
Publication date: October 23