How to reconnect with a troubled adolescent
Finding common ground and opening lines of communication with any teenager can be tricky, to say the least. If the child in question is experiencing some difficulties, from school problems to emotional disturbances, the difficulty ramps up.
Not only is there the obvious generational divide and the routine patterns of avoidance and even defiance that often mar teen/adult relationships, but in the case of the troubled teen there is often major hostility, sullenness and dishonesty. So, rapprochement is a complicated enterprise, one that seems to lack defined maps for navigation.
Each individual is different — teen and parent alike — as is each situation, meaning there’s no simple solution or remedy. There are, however, some guidelines to keep in mind that over time can help foster a spirit of trust between you and your troubled teen.
This means just what it says. Be present, as in Present Yourself. Your kid may not want to talk —be around in case she does. Your child might want to isolate — meaning it’s doubly important that you don’t. Let her know, in nonverbal communication if nothing else, that you’re there for her.
Know that this isn’t the “helicoptering” model or parenting, always underfoot and shadowing her every move. That would almost certainly be counterproductive and comes off looking more like surveillance. Rather, this is just offering up cues to the adolescent that you are there, ready and willing to listen should she decide to open up. Come into her room — after knocking — and just linger for a bit, not posing 20 questions but to just hang out for a while.
Call out occasionally from the next room, asking an easy question or making a dumb joke. There’s nothing wrong with being innocuous sometimes.
Warning: this might prove to be an arduous, unrewarding process. There is scant chance that it will produce fast results. But it will provide an inviting space, an atmosphere of safety for your troubled teen to hopefully gain some respite and even, maybe, possibly, open up to you.
Check your own emotions
This is a close cousin of the first principle, and something to keep firmly in mind. You yourself are suffering during your child’s troubles; the angst of being frightened as a parent can be crippling at times. It is important to remember that your own emotions must be kept in check. No panicked outbursts, crying jags, fits off frustration and yelling, at least not when your teen is around. These will only serve to distance her more or ratchet up her own intensity levels. You don’t have to be a robot, but you must do everything possible to keep a serene and welcoming demeanor.
A tall order, surely; that’s why it’s a good reason for parents to have their own confidants and advisers, whether that be spouse, friends or counselors of their own. We all need help, especially in fraught times. Seek out and engage the help you need. But remember that you are a mainstay of your child’s support system; they are not a mainstay of yours. Find outside sources to gain the clarity and poise needed to be a help to your child.
Take them seriously
Teens don’t know everything, and neither do we. Make sure you don’t bring any condescension to your interactions. We’ve been through the adolescent years and may, with our adult stresses and responsibilities, kind of scoff at their so-called “problems.” That’s a mistake.
Why, other than the obviously bad behavior of being dismissive? Because if we truly reflect on our own adolescence, we’re likely to remember what a scary time it often was. Overwhelming, confusing, uncertain. The world in all its fearsome complexity was rearing up for the first time. We were in a nebulous transition between childhood and adulthood. Let’s just say, for the vast majority of us, it wasn’t all fun and games.
Empathy is the biggest bridge there is to join two people. Take your teen’s problems and challenges seriously — don’t interrupt them, patronize them, tell them how to feel — or how not to. If you treat her and her challenges seriously, you may be surprised how much respect that behavior gains.