Dealing with Teenage Angst

Dealing with Teenage Angst

Thursday, 18 February 2016  | Karissa - Assistant Principal - Secondary
Over the past twelve years, I have had many parents ask for advice for dealing with their teenager. “He always seems to overreact”; “She’s always crying over little things”; “He’s so stressed and he’s only in Year 7”; “She never tells me anything”; “He’s acting out, but I don’t know why”... Without a teenager of my own, one might ask my qualifications… but as a teacher and an Assistant Principal, dealing with teenage angst is a big part of what I do… and I love it! Teenagers have so much to teach us about life and about ourselves.  So here are some ideas from the desk of the Assistant Principal…

1. Listen actively, and listen to the end.
Teens want to have a conversation, but they won’t attempt it unless they know that Mum or Dad is willing to listen. It’s frustrating for all of us when someone listens just long enough to try to fix it, or to offer advice or a lecture, when all you want is a listening ear. Well intentioned parents may miss the real issue because they stop short of listening to the end. They may feel like they’ve listened and helped their child, when they actually didn’t really hear the heart of their teen.

Be an active listener: stop what you are doing, and look at your teen. Give your full attention. Listen to what they are saying, and repeat back to them what you have understood the issue to be, to make sure you’ve heard them correctly. Give advice and answers only if they ask for it (no matter how hard that might be!)

Teens will often test you - they’ll share just enough to see how you will react. If you jump in with a lecture on how it was ‘back in the day’ or a sermon on purity, you may as well install a ‘No Vacancy’ sign on your forehead. Your teen won’t be coming back anytime soon.

So what happens after you’ve listened to the end? When you’ve heard the heartbeat of your teen, the challenges he or she is facing, and the emotions they are battling? Then you are equipped to help your teen with the real problem and offer realistic guidance to help them find his or her way.

2. Validation
Teens need to know that it is okay to have whatever feelings and emotions they are experiencing. Whilst we as adults may not fully understand or comprehend why they react the way they do, or why the emotional outburst is happening, we must never dismiss or make them feel that they are not allowed to express their feelings. The key is validation.
Validating = sending the message ‘Your feelings are okay’.

“I can see that you are really upset by what your friend said to you.”

By simply validating, without solving, you are opening up room for acceptance and dialogue. You are telling your teen – ‘come as you are… I’m here to listen and to try to understand’.

Invalidating = sending the message ‘You should not be feeling the way you do’.

Some examples of this might include; “You’re overreacting” , “If you can’t handle this little thing, how are you going to cope in Year 12?” , “Get over it!” “Don’t act like a baby.”

Empathy and understanding will earn trust and respect.

Our ability to feel comes from being made in the image of God. When God sent his son to earth as a man, Jesus gave us the true example of how we should live and act. And while we don’t know much about how Jesus dealt with teenage angst, unrequited love, or too much homework, we do know that he was fully God and fully man – full of emotions. He wept. He was filled with joy. He got angry. Your teen may appear overly dramatic, sometimes even irrational, but they have a right to their feelings. This is how God made us.

3. Accept the emotion, not the commotion
There will be times when your teen needs to learn how to cope with the emotions they are feeling. They have a right to be upset, but they do not have the right to be rude or disrespectful. It is important to acknowledge and validate feelings, but also to teach the appropriate way to respond.

The key to this is to remain calm, be respectful yourself and show understanding.

Avoid fighting fire with fire - a yelling match will not end well. Nor will it teach your teen how to deal effectively with issues in the future. 

As we read in Ephesians 4:26-27:
“Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.” The Message

And my final thought...

4. Pray
One of the most powerful things in your teen’s life will be the support of a praying parent. Pray that they will feel validated and accepted. Pray that the Holy Spirit will help guide your teen, because you and I won’t always be around; and as we know, sometimes life can be hard. 

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