Dear Cassy by Liz Schoeben
Many middle and high school students say they wish they could talk to their parents about what is going on but they are often afraid of disappointing them. I advise parents to remember what it was like at that age. Try not to judge or overreact. Try listening first and reflecting back what you heard. Don’t be too quick to suggest fixes for the problem. Just listen and offer support. Validating and normalizing their experiences is sometimes all they need. Flunking a test or having a fight with a close friend can be devastating for them. It can be the equivalent of an adult of losing a job or getting a divorce. Teens don’t yet have the perspective that life experiences bring. Normalizing the situation means letting them know it is normal to feel this way — that they aren’t crazy or being overly emotional. Try having meaningful or difficult conversations while driving. It can be less intimidating to not have to directly face your parents as you discuss certain issues. Share some of the struggles you had growing up. Letting your child know you are not perfect and have had challenges can be very comforting.
As children approach middle school age it is an important for parents to continue to provide structure and support even if it is new and scary for both the parent and child. Parents may need to alter parenting styles. It is vital that children learn from their mistakes in order to build resiliency and a sense belonging. It can be very difficult to watch your child struggle but remember this is how they learn to cope. It is better to have your child face challenges while living with you so when they go off to college and adulthood they have some experience with failure.
Choose your battles. Teens are prone to impulsive, risk taking behavior. Save your battles for the big things. Let a messy room go for now so the discussion on drinking at a party has more impact. Pick a few values to base behaviors on.
Teens should be allowed a fair amount of privacy. I am not a proponent of checking their phone, text messages or social media accounts. Many times the messages are out of context or exaggerated to impress their social circle. But if they are not able to be responsible then some monitoring or restricting may be necessary.
Parenting younger children has its own sets of challenges and concerns. Here are a few tips:
- Praise specific behaviors. Instead of saying “good job” try “good job with picking up your toys.”
- Give children the opportunity to correct their unfavorable behavior. Instead of telling a child he/she did a task wrong or didn’t follow directions, ask the child to try again and then praise the correct behavior.
- Be mindful if your child is around during certain adult conversations (finances, relationships, other stressors). This may impact the child’s behaviors at school.
- Model the behavior you want your child to have. Do you yell in traffic? Do you go out of your way to help a stranger at the store? As with always listening, children are always watching what you do.
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Liz Schoeben is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In 2017, she founded CASSY SoCal (cassysocal.org), which partners with the Palos Verdes Unified School District to provide students with comprehensive mental health services.