Inside: Teen drama can be exhausting for you both. Here are a few tips on how to manage.
Oh the drama!
Having a tween or teen means there. will. be. drama. And lots of it!
Our kids face overwhelming pressure in almost every aspect of their lives and we all know that it can lead to meltdowns of epic proportions.
From ridiculously hard classes to a full calendar of extra-curricular and social activities and then sometimes there are even jobs thrown in there, their schedules are logistical nightmares.
Their hormones are raging creating unpredictable moods and a daily rollercoaster of unexpected emotions. Insecurities run rampant about everything from how they look and act to whether or not they fit-in while at the same time worrying about whether or not they stand out.
And let’s not forget the complicated social issues that flood their lives with faltering friendships, the emotional highs and lows of romantic relationships, and the relentless efforts they put into keeping up with the ever-changing plans with their peers.
Put this all together and welcome to the world of teenagers, spelled D-R-A-M-A.
Every day brings new challenges for our kids who are trying to figure out how to do it all, be it all, and keep it all going. They are juggling so many balls and almost daily at least one falls, breaks, or explodes, leaving their entire world in pieces on the floor. And when one piece of their life is a mess, it can get magnified, causing everything else to come to a screeching halt.
We as parents can feel overwhelmed with their struggles too. Our kids experience so much stress, it becomes stressful for us. We want so badly to help them when things get hard- to somehow make things less painful, less overwhelming, less dramatic. We want this for them, but being honest, also for us. Sometimes it’s just all too much.
So, how do we help adolescents survive all this teen drama?
Really, there are two important things we need to do as parents. If we are there for them in these ways, we will not only give them the comfort and encouragement they need, but we will build a trusting bond that will keep them coming back to us over and over again. And we all want that, right?
The #1 most important thing we can do is listen.
Consider yourself lucky if your teen will share details about their personal lives with you. That’s fantastic!
When your teen spills all their feelings and shares anything difficult they are going through, simply listen with empathy. Tell them how sorry you are that they are going through this difficult thing. Validate their feelings with affirming words that are comforting, not condemning.
Don’t interject your opinions or suggestions.
Don’t multi-task while they’re talking.
Give them your undivided attention and be present with them and tune in to what they are saying. This is the most important way you can nourish your relationship with your teen and be there for them when things get hard.
You may have strong feelings about what they are sharing. You might be surprised, offended, angry, or hurt. You may even find all the teen drama ridiculous. But this isn’t about you, it’s about your kid and what they are experiencing.
When their world is spinning out of control, you need to be their anchor. You are the adult and they need your stability to feel secure in their mess. They don’t need you to add to their drama, they need you to diffuse it by being strong enough to hear what they’re saying and remain calm. They need you to nod or shake your head with full investment in each detail. They need to feel like you get it and you get them, whether you do or not. This is about being IN IT with them, stretching out of your world to reach into theirs.
If you interrupt them with your thoughts and feelings about their situation, you are creating a barrier between their outpouring and your ear. They just want to vent, to express how they are feeling, and talk about what’s going on that is upsetting them. Give them a chance to share everything and allow them to process it all out loud. Be their sounding board, their confidant, someone they can trust to not judge or criticize how they are handling things.
Also, try not to sound shocked or appalled at anything they tell you. When they are already feeling vulnerable, your teen doesn’t also want to feel judged, so try to keep reminding them — and yourself — that no topic should be taboo and they should feel comfortable talking to you about anything.
And if you are like the many parents where your teen doesn’t seem to tell you anything, we get that too. Getting your teen to open up can be a challenge. Just keep staying available and listen more than you talk. If you don’t hound them, they will eventually open up.
The second most important thing we can do is offer our help.
This doesn’t mean you are going to give your opinion about exactly what your child should do in these circumstances. It also doesn’t mean you will tell them what you will do about the situation.
This is their drama to handle unless someone’s life is in danger. Remember, one of your goals as a parent of teens is getting them to the point that they can manage life on their own. They need to develop coping skills and learn how to handle heartache and adversity, conflict and mistakes. These are the opportunities for them to do just that.
So how do help to our teens deal with the drama while not solving everything for them?
We ask this one simple question: “How can I help you through this?”
It’s hard to hold your tongue and not offer specific suggestions, but this open-ended question puts the choice in your teen’s hands about how they want you to be involved. They may have some ideas for what they need from you or they may just need you to listen because there’s really nothing to do to change the situation.
If your kid asks you what you think or what they should do, then yes you have been granted permission to dive in. However, you still need to carefully choose your words when giving them advice. Remember what seems like silly teen drama to you probably feels life-altering to them.
Helping your teen survive the drama means playing the long game
Remind yourself of the TWO GOALS you want to accomplish:
- Keeping a trusted relationship with your teen.
- Helping them figure out how to get through the drama.
The most important being #1. Please don’t tear them down by telling them they did something stupid or unacceptable. If they did, they most likely already know it and feel terrible. Telling them all of this again is only going to add to the drama.
Sure, you can address their behavior and possible consequences, but be mindful that you want them to still talk to you when things get bad in the future. Remember these are the years when your kids will make mistakes, and some of them might be really big ones. Ask yourself if you want to keep the relationship healthy and strong with your teen. If the answer is yes, then be thoughtful about how you react and the words you choose.
Even as adults, what we want most is someone who will come beside us and walk through the mess with us without critical judgment, right? Our kids need that too.
They may not show it all the time, but our opinion of them matters. What we say matters. When they are in a vulnerable situation and their feelings are exposed, we can either dive in and keep them from drowning or we can be just one more hand pushing them under the water.
We need to ask ourselves what would we want in our moments of despair? Of course, our kids want that too.
Teen drama is an inevitable part of middle school and high school life. But by truly listening to them and offering help on their terms (without a side of judgment) we hold the key to dialing it all down. And the best part is that we’re not only helping them, but we’re helping ourselves. Teenagers create chaos, but we can restore calm to their hearts and our homes. Making all our lives a little more peaceful, at least until the next meltdown.
This is a contributed post by Christine Carter. She writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications and she is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.” and “Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World”. Both sold on Amazon.
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