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Finding Time to Talk, Learn During Time of Tragedy

Parenting is difficult enough, but knowing how to address teenage stress doesn't have to be hard as we think.

There was one piece of advice from a "transition-to-middle-school" workshop that put on several years ago that always stuck with me: "Let your child feel pain."

That was a tough one. Let your child feel pain. What mom or dad wants their child to feel pain? The speaker was referring to the teenager's ability to process painful situations, such as a break-up with a first girlfriend or boyfriend, without resorting to drugs or alcohol; and that kids who did this successfully were less likely to resort to substance abuse or experience serious depression, both of which could lead to fatal outcomes.

What a happy message, huh? But it always stuck with me. And it resonates again, especially after a .

I always tried to keep that message in mind when our kids experienced a few ups and downs of their own during the teen years: being dropped abruptly by a friend; not getting playing time on a team; living through a "mean girls" phase.

Sometimes, it was really hard to sit back and watch. I always wondered: can our kids get through this? Was there something heroic I should be doing to help? Or was there a wise sage I could consult who had all the answers?

Truthfully, I wouldn't have minded sprinkling magic fairy dust to make sure our kids emerged unscathed from any tough situation. But unfortunately, there was no such thing as magic fairy dust. And that wouldn't have done much to help them develop the problem-solving skills they'd need later on, anyway.

So, sometimes, I did nothing. And assumed they would develop the same ol' pluckiness I'd somehow managed to develop during my own not-so-perfect teen years.

It doesn't mean, however, that "nothing" is the only solution. According to the  University of Minnesota Extension Service, the university community education arm, there are ways that parents can help their teen children ward off depression. And I like to think these are things all parents of teenagers are capable of.

  • We have to make sure our kids feel comfortable talking to us. Sometimes, our kids may think we don't want to hear about the things that are troubling them; that we may not react properly. But if we want them to get through stressful times, comfortably, we have to make sure they feel comfortable talking to us when it really counts.
  • Our teens need to know we love them, and that if they feel depressed, we won't be angry or disappointed. It's uncomfortable to think that our children experience negative emotions; but they do, and we owe them a safe environment in which they can express them.
  • We need to be good models for handling stress. When things get bumpy for us, they need to see that we have strategies for handling the stress that comes with. It could be exercise; it could be talking to close friends and family; or it could even be good old-fashioned problem-solving through reading or research — anything that helps teens see that there are constructive ways to handle stress.
  • We need to listen, and make sure we don't offer too much advice or direction. Teens don't need to hear that these should be the best years of their lives. This is especially discouraging if, clearly, they are not.
  • We can help our teens develop problem-solving skills. What are some things that they'd really like to do? How they can plan for them? We can help our teens see that they have many options in their future. This may add a needed dose of optimism, which helps them find ways to creatively problem solve.
Kristin Bull March 01, 2011 at 12:35 PM
Well said, Pam. It IS hard to sit back and watch your children in different situations throughout their lives, and the concept of letting your child feel pain is no exception, for sure.
Megan Swoyer March 01, 2011 at 12:39 PM
I agree. It's extremely difficult to watch teens get tough life lessons. When I talk to experts about it or close friends who are wise, they always tell me that those tough times will build great character in the future. Hard to tell a teen that, but I do, as often as I can. Even last night while driving one of my kids somewhere, I took the opportunity to chat with him about a particular issue, listen to him and then say, "Yes, it's rotten it really is, but it's reality and we will get through it." He heard me.

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