I am sure many of you can relate to that midday text you get from your child in which they express real unhappiness, anxiety and maybe even their desire to be picked up from school. As a parent, this is really upsetting. What should you do?

One of the perks of working for In Step is the access I have to experienced therapists who are receptive to my own occasional personal sticky wicket parenting questions. In this case, I had gotten a particularly unhappy text from one of my teenagers and wanted to get a little bit of advice about how to respond. Mary Shuffleton, LPC is one of the clinicians who works a great deal with adolescents and their parents. She gave me some words of wisdom and I thought it was so helpful that I needed to share:

“Teens often experience events more intensely based on temperament, hormones, and brains developing at the speed of sound. So it’s ok to let them vent. Better they do this with a trusted adult or close friend whom they can trust. If they vent to others (or even worse, on social media), it will likely get repeated and cause much worse strife.

I advise parents of teens to do a couple of things. Stay calm. Avoid letting your own anxiety get in the way of the process. Your teen is figuring out how to manage through life’s difficult moments. Listen, listen, listen. Then ask: “Do you need me to just listen right now, or would you like my advice?” Then respect what they say. If they say they just need you to listen, say “Ok, I’m here if you change your mind.” One important element is to say these things in an authentic, neutral way. No sarcasm or hidden agenda (i.e., You really should be asking for my advice because you can’t possibly handle this situation. or You’re acting crazy over something I think is not a big deal.)

This of course is meant for responding to rants and typical emotional reactions, not to suicidal statements or behaviors that reflect the teen is depressed. Give teens time to work through difficult situations. Just because we think a relationship was bad for them and we are relieved it’s over, doesn’t mean your teen will get over it as quickly as you. We know in retrospect that things will be fine, but it’s hard for our teen to see that.

I highly recommend this book for any parent with a pre-teen or teen. It’s excellent! Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens + Teens Paperback – June 1, 2009 by Laura S. Kastner (Author), Jennifer Wyatt (Author)”

Thanks Mary! Short of handing you the phone to let you respond, it was the next best thing.

I hope it was helpful for you folks as well.

Dara Adams
Associate Director
In Step