Tag Archives: teenagers

Raw Truth from Teens

 

Let’s dispel a common myth about teenagers. They actually yearn to communicate with their parents, despite evidence to the contrary.

But communication must be a two-way street, and for a vast number of teenagers, that isn’t happening. It’s not so much a refusal to open up—instead, their silence is often rooted in discouragement because of something the parent is doing or not doing.

Nell, a 17- year-old client, put it succinctly as she expressed the frustration that many teenagers experience: “Parents think that just because they’re older, their opinions are always right. Many times, when my mom is talking to me, she’ll accuse me of not listening. That’s not true at all. I am listening, but I just keep my thoughts to myself. I don’t bother to share my opinions or disagree with her because she thinks she’s always right.”

Apparently, her mother feels she’s right about Nell’s emotions as well: “My mom will ask me how I feel, and when I tell her, she says, ‘No, you don’t.”

Allison and Tara provide another example of a communication shut-down.  In one counseling session, 14-year-old Allison opened up to her mom, Tara, saying, “I’ve always felt you liked [my brother] Mark more than me . . . .” Before Allison could even finish her sentence, Tara interrupted defensively, “That’s not true! I have always cared for you kids the same!”  The desire for any further discussion was effectively squashed.

Because Allison became quiet, Tara mistakenly believed that the problem was resolved. It wasn’t. That’s because the problem is rooted in the heart, not the head. Allison doesn’t need words to straighten out her thinking—the remedy must be aimed directly at the heart.

Allison may have her facts wrong—her mother may truly love her children the same—but her personal experience says otherwise, and that’s where Tara needs to go.

Here is the advice I gave Tara: Get control of that knee-jerk need to defend yourself. Instead, strive to understand why your daughter feels that way so you can tackle the problem at its roots. Be receptive to her perspective as she reveals why she feels the way she does. Comfort her and apologize for any pain you may have unintentionally caused.

Tara was game to give it another try. She warmly invited Allison to explain why she felt her mom was favoring her brother.

Allison tearfully responded: “Because you never get mad at him. You’re always yelling at me. I can’t do anything right! You think I’m a terrible kid.”

Again, Tara went on the defense.  “No I don’t!” she argued, giving examples to the contrary. The brief argument that followed ended with Allison’s silence once again. Tara didn’t win the argument. In fact, she lost. She forfeited communication with her daughter and reinforced Allison’s reluctance to share her thoughts and feelings.

Sixteen-year-old Justin’s parents complain that he never talks to them. The reason became obvious in a family session about Justin’s grades. Justin’s parents grilled him like police officers. Their interrogating, warning, shaming and lecturing tactics virtually guaranteed a shut-down. With his arms folded, Justin said nothing as he gazed at the floor. If Justin’s parents want productive dialogue with their son, their manner must invite that.

What makes teenagers comfortable enough to open up to their parents?  For the answer, we adults need only to look at what works for us. What entices us to open up and talk?  The answer is simple: We feel safe, and we feel convinced that the other person is truly interested in what we have to say.

We want to be heard, they want to be heard . . . no difference.

 

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) 2017 Salee Reese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You Have a Choice: Walnuts or Apples

apples and walnuts

 

Once upon a time, a walnut tree decided to start producing apples instead of walnuts. He was shunned by some and admired by others for his raw courage.

He had defied his programming.

No question, if this had actually happened, the news of this free-thinking walnut tree would have received world-wide attention in a matter of seconds.

In truth, we all know that it’s impossible for walnut trees to grow apples. They’re genetically programmed to produce only one thing … walnuts. And just like walnut trees, we humans are genetically programmed. Take our physical appearance. It’s directly influenced by genes passed down from our ancestors.

But unlike walnut trees, we also undergo parental programming that shapes our behavior, our thoughts and attitudes. That we can change! And if we choose to do so, we will be shunned by some and admired by others. 🙂

For example, Cheryl has been programmed to put her mother’s needs before her own. If her mother requests something or manipulates Cheryl through guilt tactics, Cheryl drops everything and caters to her wish. Even if it’s hugely inconvenient. Even if her own family suffers.

I’m happy to say that’s all changing. Lately, when Cheryl has the impulse to drop everything and do her mother’s bidding, she stops and asks herself: What do I think is the best use of my time right now? How do I best take care of me and my family?

In other words, what do I choose to do?

Then there’s James. He gave countless examples of his father yelling at him when he was a boy and telling him how worthless he was.

“In his eyes, I sucked at everything . . . I couldn’t do anything right.”

For 40 years, James bought into that piece of damage. He even picked up where his father left off. As an adult he would mutilate his own self-esteem with the same messages he got from his dad.

Not long ago, he chose to see himself in a new light.

Katie was programmed to tough it out. Instead of comforting her when she got hurt—either physically or emotionally—her parents would sternly say: “You’re alright.”

Her programming failed to prepare her for understanding and working through her emotions. So she was at a loss—to the point of panic—when her dog died, when her car broke down on a busy highway, when her boyfriend cheated on her, and when she became the target of cyberbullying.

By the time I met her, she was inches away from suicide.

Today, she’s choosing to embrace her feelings. By doing so, she’s on the road to learning how to manage them.

Each of these individuals chose to defy their programming. They’re to be admired.

Walnuts or apples? To break the spell of programming, make it apples. 🙂

 

(c) Salee Reese 2016

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Call it Parent Power!

colorful explosion2

Laura’s petrified that her teenage daughter may be headed down a dangerous path.

While she and Kaitlyn sat across from each other in my office, Laura rattled off her string of concerns. Among her worries were slipping grades, Kaitlin’s recent choice of friends—some have been in trouble with the law—and a controlling boyfriend who habitually puts Kaitlyn down.

As her mother talked, Kaitlyn made every attempt—frantically—to disagree and voice her opinion. Understandably so. None of us likes to be cast as a loser, and in Kaitlyn’s eyes that was exactly what was happening. To Kaitlyn, her mother wasn’t listing concerns, she was listing failings. This same scenario was often played out at home, and with even more intensity.

I explained to Laura that during those times, Kaitlyn was defending her self-image. “She must resist your impression of her, because she has to believe in herself,” I said. “If she doesn’t, she’s wide open to all those things you’re worrying about.”

“Your influence as a parent skyrockets as you believe in your child.”

In fact, there’s no better way to arm a child for the challenges of daily life.

As parents, we have little control over what happens after our children become teenagers. A smaller child is much easier to influence. As they head for some danger zone, such as a stairwell, we swiftly reach out and grab them. We can’t do that with teenagers. But we can convey that we have confidence in their ability to master life’s risky stairwells on their own.

Laura won’t be able to dictate Kaitlyn’s choice of friends, and criticizing them will only backfire. Like all of us, Kaitlyn needs to feel valued and accepted, so if her friends are the only ones providing that fundamental need, she will lap it up like a starved kitten. And, let’s face it, when we’re starving, we’re not picky about what the food is and where it’s coming from.

When Kaitlyn feels good about herself, she’s more likely to make choices consistent with that good feeling. Her grades will likely go up, and putdowns will no longer be tolerated.

Laura can help make that happen. I advised her to do the following:

  • Instead of saying: “Be careful,” as Kaitlyn leaves the house, say, “I know you’ll be careful.”
  • Avoid lecturing her about all the dangers out in the real world. She’s heard them a zillion times from you already. Instead, tell her you know she will use good judgement no matter how tough the challenge.
  • Convey that you have confidence in her ability to handle controlling people by saying to her, “I know you’ll stand up for yourself.”
  • When she does well, acknowledge it and praise her. We too easily point out errors.
  • When she falls short, don’t lose confidence in her—she will be less likely to lose confidence in herself.

I also suggested that Laura add the following phrases to her everyday vocabulary:

  • Keep up the good work!
  • You can do it!
  • You must be so proud of yourself.
  • I believe in you.
  • I trust you’ll do the right thing.

By believing in her daughter, seeing her in a positive light, and trusting her ability to navigate life’s various challenges, Laura will indirectly bolster Kaitlyn’s self-image while safeguarding her with the strength of confidence. Consequently, she can’t help but influence Kaitlyn’s life for the better.

I call that extraordinary power!

 

Names are changed to protect client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2016

 

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The Truth about Tears

inside out

“Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

–Heather, 16

If you haven’t watched the movie Inside Out, drop everything and head for a theater immediately! The story takes place inside the head of 11-year-old Riley, where five key characters reside—all representing her main emotions: Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness.

The story carries a powerful message about the important role each emotion plays in our life, including those less desirable emotions such as sadness.

In the movie, Sadness starts out as a bother but ends up the hero. That’s because she knows how to handle Riley’s problems. Unlike the other emotions, she knows where to take things so they can change for the better.

She’s also the only character who demonstrates  empathy. When Riley’s imaginary friend—Bing Bong—from early childhood, becomes sad and discouraged, Joy is powerless, but that isn’t true of Sadness. She listens in the only way that counts—at the heart level. Bing Bong got better.

And when Riley’s parents got in touch with their sadness over Riley’s sadness, they were capable of listening. The result? Things got better. Prior to that, Riley believed that the only allowable emotion was joy. And in the movie we learn that joy has its limitations.

It was apparent that Riley was sheltered from negative emotions from the start. Therefore, she was poorly equipped to deal with the stresses and heartbreak of moving to another state at the age of eleven.

As I lost myself in this movie, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Heather, whom I quoted above, a teenager I counseled who was grappling with overwhelming sadness. Her parents were oblivious to that fact until they found her suicide note. Read her story here.

Both Riley and Heather needed the freedom to feel, and the freedom to express it. They needed to be understood, and that was best accomplished when their parents felt with them.

When I asked Heather: “When you’re hurting, what do you need most from your mom? Do you need for her to be strong?” Without any hesitation, she replied:

“No! I need to see her feelings. Showing feelings isn’t being weak—it’s being close.”

That says it all.  Thanks, Heather.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) 2015 Salee Reese

 

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Love is the Force

dad and daughter

“I want her to know she can come to me.”

Ben was referring to his twelve-year-old daughter, Madison. He sought my advice because 1) he’s concerned about her grades and 2) he realizes his approach is alienating her.

When Ben talks to Madison about her grades, he doesn’t talk. He yells and puts her down.

“Suppose your boss wanted you to do better at something, ” I asked, “would he get very far by getting upset and criticizing you?”

Ben sighed and said: “I get what you’re saying. I think I take after my dad. He was never physically abusive but he would be up my a** with his tone.”

A closed heart . . . an angry, critical approach only creates resistance and defensiveness.

What’s more, it creates separation and bad feelings—our relationships suffer.

I suggested he try approaching his daughter differently: “I’m noticing that your grades are slipping. What’s going on, hon? How can I help?'” The attitude of kindness that accompanies those words will give Ben his best shot at making something positive happen.

An open heart spawns trust and a close bond. Parent and child become partners instead of adversaries. It says: “Hey, I like you, and we’re together in this.”

Another client, Kim, was equally frustrated with her teenage daughter, Nicole’s, tepid response to a family outing. Kim was pushing, and Nicole was tuning her out. To break this deadlock, each would need to go beneath the surface and see the other’s true feelings—the pain. Such is the pathway to compassion—the only avenue for resolving differences. Interestingly, Kim’s true feelings centered around grief. Click here to read about our session.

By far, the single most important task of any parent is to build a strong bond with their child. Without that foundation, parents are handicapped in their ability to guide and discipline effectively. They may get obedience—which is usually no more than a mere superficial display—but they won’t get the respect and cooperation necessary for influencing a child’s life for the better.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

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Dominated by Guilt

sad puppy

Guilt, just like anger, is often used as a tool to manipulate.

Last week I offered one reason why we refrain from speaking up or confronting another person. It’s the fear of igniting a thunderstorm.

Another reason is guilt. One of my teenage clients, Allie, put it perfectly:

“I don’t know how to stand up for myself without feeling really bad afterward. I worry about hurting someone’s feelings.”

Allie may be a teenager, but her concern is universal—she’s just not alone in this. Many, many people of every age—myself included—have trouble with this one.

Dru also suffered, and grew, through her struggle with this issue.  You can read about it here.

Allie wants to get a handle on this tendency because it sets her up to be taken advantage of. For example, friends frequently ask her for rides. During Christmas break she was driving people around for hours. She always says yes even when she doesn’t really want to.

Her friends may be happy with this arrangement, but Allie isn’t. “My gas gets used up!” she said in exasperation.

In our session, we talked about the common sense of asking her friends to help out with the gas, or merely opt to use the “no” word. She gets it, but it’s tough, tough, tough because she can’t bear the idea of letting someone down. A certain sad expression is all it takes.

We explored where her problem first took root. “My mom would act hurt if I didn’t give in to what she wanted,” she said. So understandably, Allie learned to water herself down and become putty in the hands of others. She tells me she’s so used to focusing on what others want that “I don’t even know what I want half the time.” Sad.

What I told Allie, was the same thing I told Dru:

Hurting someone’s feelings isn’t always a bad thing. Being denied, stopped or corrected is a part of life and necessary for teaching us our limits and how to be sensitive and respectful to others. We rob people of growing in these ways when we give in to pouts or angry outbursts.

Names are changed to honor confidentiality

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The Latest Wow: Rebellion’s Treasure

treasure chest

Not long ago, a client—in her 40s—wowed me with this:

“Rebellion, at any age, is a means of repositioning ourselves with our parents.”

I can only agree. I’ve come to see that the good side of rebellion is that it allows us to break into new horizons of empowerment—to transcend existing limits. Another client, Sonya, further substantiated that point. She was telling me how much she appreciates the grief she once caused her parents especially now that she has teenagers of her own. Hair pulling time! So she did the only honorable thing and apologized to her mother :-).

I was both amazed and touched by what her mother had to say:  “Don’t give it a second thought. It just meant you were readying yourself for leaving the nest.”

Rebellion isn’t really a war waged against our parents. It’s a war waged against our childlike attachment to them—our littleness in their presence.

Acts of rebellion are important dramas, essential for clearing the way for a more mature you—little you giving way to bigger you.

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