Having a grown child and three teenagers at home, it’s safe to say I’ve navigated my share of young adult turmoil. Hearts hurt by friends they trusted. Classes, teams, activities where they are stumbling to keep up. Poor choices that leave them feeling a stranger to themselves. And this constant, exhausting battle between excitement and anxiety for the future.
Through dozens of conversations with my kids over the years, I’ve learned that parents have a unique opportunity - and responsibility, even – to offer balm when their children are hurting. Here are three phrases I have found to be particularly helpful when talking to a teenager who is struggling.
I know this has been hard for you.
As parents, we carry our own burdens and worries that might make what a teenager deals with seem less significant by comparison. We might even look at our own adolescence and think to ourselves “if they only knew how good they have it.” But when my teenager is struggling, it’s not about me – it’s about her. And sympathy is always my first choice. It costs me nothing to set my ego aside, and I can always offer perspective over time. I find that validating their emotions creates a safe place where my teens can identify and discuss their feelings, and I’ve been surprised at the emotional intelligence they have learned over time because of it.
I believe you can move past this.
When things have been really hard for my kids, I desperately want to tell them “It’ll all be ok.” But, I don’t know that for sure. And if it will be ok, I don’t know how, and I don’t know when. But what I do know is that my teenagers each have the ability and strength to control how they respond to and move beyond their struggles. This belief empowers them to make choices and take steps towards being happy, instead of waiting for it. I have had great opportunities to remind my teenagers of their strengths, and even what they have learned and endured through previous struggles. In doing so, it helps them see all the mental and emotional tools they already have to help them through their current struggle.
This won’t change what I think about you.
Your teenager may never admit this to you, but they crave your good opinion of them. They will probably always take as a given that you love them, but they desperately want to know that you like them, too. This is the one thing that my teenagers have said to me time and again as they’ve stumbled and made mistakes – “I just don’t want you to think any differently of me.” You can’t imagine how humbling it is to hear them be so vulnerable with me. They put their heart in my hands, and with blind trust hope that my faith in them will be sturdy enough to protect it. This one revelation in raising has teens has taught me so much about unconditional love. Because it’s not just about loving, but also hoping for and expecting the best out of people, no matter what.
Though these are the three phrases that have served me (and my teenagers, I believe) well over the years, I know there are many more things a parent can say to offer love and support to a teenager who is struggling.
What would you add to the list?