When you bring your little bundle of joy home from the hospital, it seems everyone has advice on what you should and shouldn’t do. Put them to sleep this way. Don’t feed them that way. Don’t forget to do xyz.
The advice continues through toddlerdom and the elementary school years as you help teach your children to read, write, and be good citizens.
But all those good intentions seem to disappear when you reach the teenage years. Parents are left wondering if they’re doing anything right, and their often moody and hormonal teenagers are quick to confirm their worst thoughts about their parenting skills.
Being the parent of a teenager isn’t for the faint of heart. But the teen years aren’t just difficult for the parents. They’re confusing, frustrating, frightening, and a whole array of other emotions for the teens too.
Whether you’re the parent of a teen or a therapist who treats them, our recent webinar on Advice for Therapists from Parents of Teens is for you. During the webinar, a panel of three parents provided insights into the positive and negative advice they’ve received from mental health professionals and what they hope is never said to another teen parent.
Why Parenting Teens is So Challenging
My children are young adults now, but I wear the badge of having survived the teen years proudly. They were challenging years for our entire family. And, for the first time, my husband and I found ourselves disagreeing on how we should parent our children. Everyone warned us that having two toddlers would be difficult, but no one prepared us for having a pair of teenagers. We made it through. Our panelists are still raising their teens. Here’s why they think it’s so challenging.
Jennifer Wallace has 15- and 23-year-old boys. She said raising her older son didn’t necessarily prepare her for the younger one’s teen years because they’re so different. She also can’t fall back on her teen years for guidance because she said the world is completely different than it was then.
“With the addition of social media and cell phones, they’re so connected. It’s so easy to bully someone online or share pictures that they shouldn’t be sharing. Technology takes it to a whole other level.”
Add to that the regular hormones and bodily changes that teenagers experience and a pandemic and you have a perfect storm, making parenting teens extra difficult right now, Jennifer said.
Brandi Vincent has a 17- and an 18-year-old. She agreed with the idea that social media makes raising teenagers much more difficult. She also said teens tend to talk more openly than they used to.
“The world that we were growing up in was more behind the scenes. Sometimes our kids tell us things and I think, ‘How do I parent this? How do I find resources or just advice?’ I feel like I’m a pretty educated person. I work as a nurse, so I’m exposed to a lot of things. But when it’s your own kid, and you’re trying to navigate this, it’s really hard.”
Brian Simmons has an adult child and a 17- and 14-year-old. He said teens are quick to label things, including themselves, without fully understanding the situation. Pressure to perform academically, athletically, socially, etc. adds to the pressure teens feel.
“Kids are figuring a lot of things out for themselves and telling themselves the wrong story about themselves. They go to school every day and try to make eight different people happy. Then they’re trying to please parents, coaches, and themselves. It’s a lot.”
The Most Therapeutic Advice
So, what do they wish everyone knew? These parents have received some advice they think is worth passing along to others in similar situations.
Brian said it took him starting therapy and studying the science behind his feelings to realize he needed to learn to listen more and try to fix things less.
“I needed to learn how to be compassionate and empathetic first instead of trying to be a problem solver. I was letting my anxiety and stress over my kids’ problems consume me.”
Jennifer said, for her family, it was affirming to hear that they’re “normal” and so are their experiences. The rest of the panel agreed that getting validation about your problems and unique situation is helpful and makes you feel less alone.
“Everyone has problems. You have problems, so you don’t have to pretend that you’re perfect. Everyone has challenges, and that’s what is normal.”
Jennifer also said her son’s therapist, who shares his diagnosis, was able to give them helpful advice about what works for her and could work for him at home.
“It’s super helpful for me to have that viewpoint of an adult who can more easily explain to me how he might be feeling and give us pointers for what might work for him,” she said.
Jennifer said that it took trying several therapists to find someone who is such a good fit for her teen and family. Brandi said she wished someone had told her early on that it was OK to switch counselors.
“We did counseling for a long time with someone who was not a good fit, and it wasn’t beneficial. I think knowing that everything is not one size fits all, and different things are going to work for different people is important.”
Advice to Leave Behind
Not all advice is helpful, even if it comes from a mental health professional or from a good place. The panel agreed that advice to give something time, “it’s just a phase,” or “it will pass” isn’t helpful.
Brandi said her family was in crisis but kept getting the advice to “take care of yourself.” She said it didn’t feel appropriate at the time because they needed help moving through the crisis before they could even consider taking time to care for themselves.
“I’m not saying there’s not a place for self-care, but for me, that ended up being what made me change to a different therapist,” she said. “I think a therapist should be able to, for lack of better word, read the room. And if you’re in a crisis, that may not be the time to just go take care of yourself or put all these things that you’re trying to deal with to the side.”
While it didn’t come from a mental health professional, Jennifer said the idea from some people that you need to just “suck it up” and not draw attention to yourself is damaging.
“I don’t understand why there’s such shame associated sometimes with counseling or therapy,” she said. “I mean, if we’re sick, we go to the doctor. I don’t understand where that stigma came in, but I think it’s really a hurdle to overcome.”
When Does It End?
The panelists are still in the midst of parenting through the teenage years and helping their children survive and thrive through them. They agreed that it was nice to hear that other parents have similar experiences and concerns. Brandi said:
“You’re just trying to get your child healthy and do the right thing for them, but then you’re trying to do everything else. You’re working, and you have your life and your other kids. It’s just like, “Is this going to at some point become easier or does it look different?’”
If you’re parenting teens and need mental health assistance or if your teens need help, All Counseling is here to connect you with a therapist. Search our therapist directory to find someone who fits your unique needs.
Watch the entire webinar and hear directly from the parents here: