March 27, 2019

Seeing your teen upset is difficult. As a parent it’s hard to find the right words to say.

Being a teen is challenging. Navigating hormones, school and relationships can be overwhelming. 

If you haven’t experienced watching a teen break-down, all I can tell you is that it’s very difficult to watch. The crying, the screaming, the tears streaming down the face….the “my life is over!”, “I hate my life..” If you haven’t experienced this yet with your teen, get ready for it because it will probably come around sooner or later.

While all of this can seem so alarming on first experience, it seems this can be a common response from a teen. If your teen comes in looking like this, take a seat and sit there and listen. These moments of frustration, anger and overwhelm are the exact moments when your teen needs someone to really listen. This is not the time to give advice or interrupt. Your teen is upset and needs to express themselves. The best thing to do is to let them, without judgement.

Perhaps in your head their concerns seem insignificant or “really nothing to get so upset over” but this is your opportunity to really be there for your teen.

As a parent it is so difficult not to offer advice. You have experience and you want to share it. The problem is that when your child feels like this, it simply is just not the time. Focus your attention on listening, I mean really listening. Get all of the details that you can about what is making your teen upset. Repeat back to them what they are saying so they see that you are listening. These details will be very important later when your child has calmed down and is ready to listen and talk about what happened.

Once they have calmed down, encourage them to exercise, take a walk, and absolutely tell them to turn off their phone. Discourage them from posting anything about what they are feeling in this moment. Having them turn off their phone discourages them from responding to text messages or posts from other friends in this moment of anger and frustration which can possibly lead to other problems. This is a great time to explain that it is normal to feel angry and frustrated and that it’s okay. Encouraging them to “sleep on it” is also a good idea. Sometimes your perspective changes after a good night’s sleep.

After a couple of days have passed, even if your child doesn’t want to talk about it:

  1. Ask them how they are doing. Ask open ended questions to see if they really want to talk but don’t know how to start the conversation.
  2. If their door is shut, knock and go in to sit with them. Feeling as though someone really cares is enough sometimes, even if they do not want to talk.
  3. Always remind them that you are there whenever they need you, regardless of the time of day. Teaching coping skills are much more helpful than getting angry, upset or telling them that they are over-reacting.
  4. Encourage your teen to go for a walk or exercise to clear their mind.
  5. Encourage your teen to write down their thoughts and read them to themselves so they can see why they feel the way that they do. Encourage them to read what they wrote as if they were listening to a friend. What kind of advice would they give that friend? Teaching self-love and kindness is so important
  6. Write a letter to your teen expressing your love and concern

It’s hard sometimes to parent teens but do not get caught up in the day to day ups and downs. Practice your listening skills, be the shoulder to cry on and try your best not to be judgmental. This will lead to a closer relationship with your teen and in the years to come.

** If your teen is showing lack of interest in things they used to enjoy, apathy, prefers being alone, weight loss, problems with sleep or overall sadness that is lasting for more than a few days, speak to their doctor about it. These may be signs of depression or adjustment disorders with anxiety and can worsen if not addressed.
-Elizabeth Vainder, M.D.

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