You know the teen years are fraught with insecurity and uncertainty so you’re consciously giving your teen space while staying positive and kind.
Maybe you’re even bending over backwards to love on them without coddling, but it’s like you’re on two different wave lengths and they don’t see or feel your efforts, or they don’t want to.
This incredibly painful disconnection comes to light when your teen yells, “You don’t love me!”, in a heated moment of anger, frustration or despair and your heart breaks.
In desperation you ask, “How can you NOT know how much I love you?!?!”
⬆️ That moment right there is why I need you to read this article.
Your teen is a DEEP ocean of emotions that changes weather patterns in the blink of an eye. They’re going from 16 basic emotions to the capacity for 87 without the language to express them or the executive function to filter or regulate them. That’s why your teen struggles to communicate feelings and clearly express their needs.
Unlike your cell phone, they don’t get a software update overnight and start talking like a psychologist. They’re getting all new hardware, but the software development requires mentorship from you.
Whether your teen is a closed book of mystery or emoting all over the place like a 20ft billboard you can’t not see, you aren’t’ responsible for their feelings. However, by understanding these 6 secrets you can close the gap between you and your teen.
1. What are they doing right? – Your teen’s self-esteem is dropping up to 30% so daily correction from school or at home feels like criticism and even condemnation. Focusing on what they’re doing wrong or need to change is demotivating and you’re training your reticular activating system (RAS) to see more faults.
The Gottman Institute, founders of relationship study with over 40 years of empirical data, currently show a minimum healthy ratio of positive (affirming or encouraging) to negative (corrective) comments is 3:1. Your teenager desperately wants you to affirm what they’re doing right, no matter how small.
i.e., “I’m proud of you for doing that.”
“Thanks for doing that (or fill in the specifics).”
“I appreciate you (fill in the blank).”
2. “Do you love me in my mess?” – Your teen’s brain is rewriting a new, more complex identity and in the process, they don’t know who they are which is frustrating and scary. You’re first reaction is likely, “what are you being this way?!”, or “what happened to you?!”. That’s normal.
Are you willing to look beyond their moment to moment, day to day mess and love them in the process of figuring out their new brain? Will you answer YES when they don’t know how to love themselves?
P.S. The level of grace and compassion you show your teenager is likely the same level of compassion and grace that you have for yourself, and what you were shown as a child.
3. Be their cheerleader – Enforcement of rules or expectations to ensure accountability and fulfilling their potential erode self-esteem, increase anxiety, and promote greater avoidance. That pass/fail environment focusses on behavior and outcomes, not the emotions that drive them, which is a breeding ground for shame.
Encouragement is a powerful tool to support your teen in developing their own internal motivation and healthy coping strategies because you’re working with the emotional gatekeeper in their brain.
You can hold firm boundaries and allow natural consequences all while being encouraging. A sincere, “I believe in you”, said to your teen when they’re riding the struggle bus means more than you realize.
4. “Do you hear me?” – When your teenager’s having an emotional outburst that sounds disrespectful, angry and blaming, it’s normal to want to shut that done with a firm, “Don’t talk to me like that!”. That’s like throwing fuel on the fire. They current emotional outburst is the raw feed of those new 87 emotions and shutting them down has much greater consequences. Rather than require your teen to deny, abandon, or suppress their feelings, they need your help to refine the delivery (boundaries around specific words/phrases like swearing or name calling are good when you encourage them try again or circle back). But they can’t do that until their brain is regulated.
Using empathy and validation is the most effective way to calm their emotional brain and get their executive function back online so they feel seen and heard, not brushed off, shut down, fixed, or labeled as over sensitive and dramatic.
i.e., “This must be really hard.”
“It seems like you’re really angry about this.”
5. “When is it my turn to talk?” – Your teen is constantly being talked at, lectured to, told what to do, what to learn and regurgitate, and what they should think and believe. Then when they try and share, they feel interrupted, corrected, judged, and fixed with endless advice.
When you allow space for your teen to process by just listening (no teaching moment), they share more often and find their own answers. This is how their higher-level thinking develops-not being told what and why they should solve their challenges.
And if they don’t feel heard by you they’ll take that inner dialogue elsewhere and risk getting some sketchy feedback about key life choices.
6. “I need to be different than you” – Your teen is figuring out who they’re becoming, and I promise you it’s not as much like you as what feels comfortable. The problem for your teen is their fear of being judged, criticized, or not loved in their differences might keep them from revealing those to you.
Disagreements and differentiation can feel scary, so you dodge them or send unconscious messages that sameness is better, even required.
Being curious about and delighting in your teen’s developing differences in opinion, passions, values, and beliefs, (with boundaries, of course) creates emotional safety and belonging so your teen doesn’t seek unhealthy external validation to know they’re welcome and ok.
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Let’s do this.