Just Being Present Can Help Your Teen's Wellbeing
Teenagers are not always easy and it's sometimes hard to know how to connect. By nature, teens aren’t often easily coerced to be a part of the family time or to chat. Parenting a teenager may sometimes be similar to fading into the background yet you're still being seen or present. Teens want their independence but deep down they need to know you are just a shout away. If you are open to receiving it on their terms you will have moments with them you didn't think were possible. The quality of your presence is important to your teen's wellbeing -- even if that's not what you're hearing from them.
Psychologist Lisa Damour wrote about this topic in the New York Times in 2016, associating parents with potted plants when it comes to being around for their teenagers. She cited a study from Australia that confirms the importance of a parent’s physical presence on adolescent health.
"Family connectedness and parental monitoring are associated with the reduction of involvement in problem behaviors in adolescence," the study states. "High levels of parental monitoring are associated with resilience, less alcohol and drug use, less risky driving, less risky sexual activity and they buffer negative peer influence, whereas low levels of parental monitoring are associated with higher levels of alcohol and drug use, violent behavior and an increase in deviant peer association."
Teenagers also want their parents around, Damour maintains, based on her work with teenagers. "They wish their parents were around more often," she writes.
In my own work with teen groups, I have found that just letting them be whoever they are without forcing them to answer questions has opened them up to share more -- sometimes they'll share what's on their mind without me even needing to put them on the spot or ask.
If there's only one thing you can do today to be present for your teen, do this:
Schedule a regular, frequent time to be with your teen or to show up for your teen.
It could be a weekly family dinner, or it could be going to their soccer game. Your teen may put out the "don't talk to me vibe," so don't. Don't ask your teen so many questions. It's not the quantity of quality of the interaction, it is fact that there is regular interaction occurring.
The key is presence without advancing an agenda or trying to control their thought process. Allowing your teen to feel seen for who they are and able to explore their identity and passions are a sign of success. Observe them and leave openings for your child to come to you without feeling forced.
Teens who need you won't likely tell you that they do. Sometimes it's hard to determine if your teenager is going through is typical development or if they're becoming depressed. Even more confusing, if your teen is doing subtle things that feel like they are rejecting they may be trying (poorly) to reach out.
Signs your child could need help to may be becoming depressed can include:
- Lethargy, or feeling sick with a lot of headaches or stomachaches
- Losing interest, withdrawing from friends or activities they once enjoyed and wanting to stay home
- Constantly on phone, social media and not able to set good boundaries around screen time
- Exhibiting nonstop risky behavior
- Spending less time with friends and more time isolated
- Saying no one understands them
- Being sexually inappropriate
Knowing these signs can help you connect with your child or teen and see the subtleties in changes in their behavior. Observation and presence is your best friend with a teen. They are venturing out into the world to see what they can do just as they did as a toddler. Love them in that same way even though their tantrums and communication may seem more harsh.
So stay aware and keep being there for your teen even if you don't feel like they like you anymore. Teens are trying to figure out who they want to be and what is normal. It won't be easy for either of you. And no matter what happens, they need you.
If you are worried your teen needs help and you need support contact me. One of my specialties is working with adolescents. Connecting with them even for me is not always easy but it is why I do the same things I am recommending here. A therapist builds rapport and I use art to also help with this process. Art Therapy is very appropriate and effective for work with teens. Feel free to request a consult. https://www.violethiveart.org/request-a-consult/
Another way to offer support is through our children's and teen programming. We now have groups at our studio for each age group.
- Open Heart Art Studio, for 5-8-year-olds is held Saturdays 10am-12pm
- In-Between Art Studio, Tuesdays 4:30-6:30 pm (Beginning 10/17/17)
Pre-teens are invited to Open Heart we adjust for multiple age groups until 10/17.
- Lil Ladies and Young Dudes Teen Art Studio, Thursdays, 4:30-6:30 pm
Resources for more information about how to connect with your children and teens:
What Do Teenagers Want? Potted Plant Parents, By Lisa Damour, December 14, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/14/well/family/what-do-teenagers-want-potted-plant-parents.html
Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, By Lisa Damour, April 4, 2017 https://www.amazon.com/dp/0553393073/ref=rdr_ext_tmb
7 Ways to Be a More Present Parent, By Kim Christenson, January 18, 2017