Speedy came home the other day and told me of an interaction he had at school. One of the 4th years (Seniors) was speaking with him. She is not someone he particularly knows. They were in the same place at the same time. She let him know that our family “is really strange and a little disturbing”. At first, I was a little put out, but I decided I really wanted to know what she meant by that so I asked Speedy to elaborate on their conversation. ‘What did she mean by that exactly?’
She went on, “When we were all here for registration and our parents had to be here and we were all standing around in line, you and your mom were joking and laughing with each other and obviously had some inside jokes and looked like you were having a great time.” Speedy told me that she doesn’t have a good relationship with her parents, in fact, it is quite the opposite. She called our relationship ‘disturbing, weird, and just wrong’.
I laughed out loud for a few minutes and then I was just sad. I realized that even when I am just being myself and being what I would call ‘normal’ people are watching us. I wasn’t sad about the watching part, as much as I was sad that her experience led her to believe a positive and fun relationship with your parent is just ‘wrong and disturbing’.
As I pondered more over the next few days, I realized that as an adolescent, I didn’t have a good relationship with my parents either. I didn’t feel like I was understood or that I could be myself. I did not feel valued or loved for who I was. Those feelings led me to be very active in my parenting and make significant efforts in the relationships I have with our children. I want them to feel like I am honest in our relationship. I want them to be able to believe the things I tell them. If I make a mistake, I say so. I apologize to them when I have mistreated them. I try to treat them like I would my best friends, except I have to be their parent, not their friend. But I am courteous, and kind. I ask for favors, like babysitting (I don’t just expect them to be available). I do give them assignments and chores and I discipline when that is necessary. But I really, really like my teenagers for who they are. I appreciate their uniqueness.
One of the most important things I believe parents can do, besides teach their children about the gospel, is to validate their feelings. They have feelings. Infants have feelings. Toddlers have feelings. Children have feelings. Adolescents have feelings. They are people. They deserve to be treated that way regardless of their age. If they are hurt, sad, upset, afraid, embarrassed, or angry, those feelings deserve to be addressed and ministered to. Children do not know the best ways to handle all of their emotions. Unfortunately, most adults do not either. But if you think back to your childhood and can recognize when people treated you in a way you did not like and when people treated you in a way that made you feel confident and happy and loved, then you will have some clues about how to help your children and teenagers have those feelings as well.
If as a parent, you are emotionally struggling with an issue, it is alright for your children to see your struggles. It is alright for you to admit that you are scared or having a difficult time, especially to your adolescents. You do not need to burden small children with your emotions or make them feel responsible for fixing your negative emotions, but it is completely appropriate to tell your children that you are sad, or hurt or afraid or sick and allow them to comfort you. Then you just say something like, “Mommy is going to try to help herself have better feelings,” or “Mommy is going to ask Heavenly Father to help her,” and then model appropriate behavior. If your children see you struggle and then watch you make positive efforts to manage your negative emotions that gives them an example to follow when they are having some of those same feelings.
Especially when emotions are shared without blame and anger, teenagers can be a huge source of comfort and solace. And when teenagers explode with their emotion for whatever reason, kindly let them know their feelings are valid, they are OK, but their behavior is not. Then give them other options for behavior when they have negative feelings.
To be very honest, your teenager needs your time. He or she needs you to take time to listen to them. Teenagers are a group that have real adult kinds of problems. In the circles they run in, they have friends who are using drugs, alcohol and/or tobacco, having sex, discussing birth control and abortion, have parents getting divorced, they are abused, etc…. One of the things we adults do not always do well, is to listen to our teenagers. They are trying to solve some seriously adult issues with teenage hormones and brains. That is not an easy thing to do, which if you think back to your adolescence, you can personally validate. Your teenagers may not be doing any of those things, but I guarantee you they know other teenagers who are.
Speedy has been upset lately because people at school are approaching him for ‘dating’ advice. He is flattered, but he is also 15, so he doesn’t have any experience to be giving advice. It is a little daunting for him. He is completely stressed out about the amount of homework he has. It isn’t more than my college boys have or more than I had at his age, but for him today, it is a huge stress. That feeling is valid. It is more homework than he has ever had to manage and it is causing him grief and stress. If as his parent, I tell him to just ‘suck it up and deal with it’ or ‘that he doesn’t have anything to complain about, his load is not that hard to manage,’ then I have just invalidated his feelings about his situation. I have done nothing to help him expand his ability to meet the load or to help him feel like he can manage it. I have invalidated his feelings of stress at his circumstances. If, on the other hand, I remember how I felt at his age and the amount of homework I had and felt overwhelmed by and just say, “Ya’ gosh! I remember that! It was hard to get all of that done,” even if I do not give him any new strategies, just letting him know his feelings at that age are normal for those circumstances does a lot for his ability to manage those feelings. If I then go further and help him to reorganize his workload or pick up some of his chores so he has more time for his homework, or sometimes just encourage him to go to bed and get a good night’s rest and then face the problems again in the morning, I am validating his feelings and helping him to manage his negative emotions.
We all need help! If we were perfect at always managing our feelings, we wouldn’t need to be on the earth anymore. The fact that we are still here, means there is more for us to learn. Teenagers are trying to manage more adult situations with an entirely new set of hormones. They deserve extra consideration, time, and love.
I think teenagers have always been my favorite because they can think like adults, work like adults, and are in a place where they are making decisions to guide their future, but they still want to play like little children. They are going to make mistakes, some big mistakes in how they manage themselves and their circumstances, but if they are shown enough love and understanding with proper boundaries for their behavior, they are usually very teachable, if their childhood experience has given them the opinion that the world is a safe place.
If, through their childhood, they have learned that the world is not a safe place, then adolescence is much more difficult to navigate, though it is not impossible. It just takes a lot more work and prayer.
LOVE your teens!!! And if you are overwhelmed and exhausted with them, pray for them and pray with them. Ask your Father in Heaven what you can do for them to help them make the right choices and show them of your love and concern. Then do what He tells you to do, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Trust Him. The child you are raising was His child first. He knows him/her and He knows what will touch his/her heart.
If you do not have teenagers, start working on your relationship with your children. You are building the relationship you will have with them through their teens! Build wisely and validate those little people feelings! Overall, sometimes us stuffy adults need to let loose and have a little teenage, or childhood fun. The children and youth need us to play with them. Those who do, will have better relationships than those who don’t have time for childish things. LOVE and PLAY….that is my advice and counsel for today.