The other day, I was text-talking to my college freshman when she was in between classes. She was using the time to look for shoe boots online and was sending me pictures to get my feedback.
I was asking mom questions like “are they lined?” and “do they have grippy soles?” and then told her to send me the link so I could order them. A few hours later, I got a follow-up text from her that said, “I’ll send the link later.” Just. That. No exclamation point (“Hey! These shoe boots are going to change my life!”), no happy-face emoji (“I’m so excited that I found shoe boots that are going to change my life!”). Just the words.
My mom problem-radar, which has a 95% accuracy rate of detecting emotional distress, went into high alert, and I texted back, “Are you alright?”
One second later, she replied, “No. I’m so alone. I’m so stressed out. I think it was a mistake to come here.”
I LOVE getting this kind of message from my child. And by “love,” I mean NOT LOVE because I HATE getting this kind of message from my child. I hate it when my girl is unhappy and there is next to nothing I can or should do about it.
I could have told her it would be okay. Because it almost certainly would be. (Spoiler alert: it was.) But over the years as the mom of two teenagers, I’ve road-tested a few other pieces of parental wisdom that seem to carry more weight and evoke less “you are so old and do not get how hard my life is” than the standard “it will be okay.” In quite particular order, they are:
10 things to say to a teen who’s stressed out
- I love you. The first thing is because it’s the most important thing. There’s a difference between classic cliché, and this is classic because it’s the foundation for everything else worth saying. I’m saying it even though I hope you know it’s true without being told. I’m saying it even though you might give me an eye-roll in return.
- Take a deep breath. Slow breath in, slow breath out. Repeat. You might have to fight yourself to do what feels like nothing when what you want to do is something, but the point is to hit the pause button and reset your racing mind and emotions so you can fix the problem, not feed it.
- I’m already proud of you. How I feel about you does not hinge on how this test or this paper or this project or this semester or this game or this application or this interview or this audition or this try-out turns out. Entirely apart from any of this, I’m proud of who you are and of who you’re becoming. I’m proud of what you’ve already done and of the effort you’ve put into the doing.
- This is not your whole story. Whatever is going on right now is not your entire life right now. And it is not all there ever will be to your life. This is part of your reality, but it is not all of it. There’s more to today and more to the future than this.
- How you feel at this moment is not how you’re going to feel forever. You’re not going to be stuck here for the rest of your life. This is not your new normal. I know getting to the other side might seem like it’s taking an eternity, but at some point (probably sooner than you’re expecting), you’ll suddenly realize you’re looking back on this instead of staring straight at it.
- Remember how you’ve gotten through tough times before. This isn’t the first time you’ve felt this way, and it won’t be the last. But so far, you have a 100% success rate of surviving things you thought you’d never get through. Don’t let this current struggle make you forget your past successes.
- Just do the next thing. The next right thing you can figure out to do. The next thing that needs to be done. The next thing that seems wise and productive. The next one thing, not the next ten things.
- Is there anything I can do to help? I know you have to figure this out on your own. I know I can’t do it for you. I know it’s not my job to fix it. But if there’s something I can and should do to help you get from here to there, tell me, and I’ll try to do it.
- I’m here for you. I’m not going to check out of this situation. I’m thinking about you and thinking about it and thinking about you thinking about it pretty much all the time. Life is full of changes, but there are some constants you can count on, and my love and support are two of them.
- How about some ice cream? Or pizza? Or pizza and ice cream? They’re called comfort foods for a reason.
My daughter never did send me the link to those shoe boots. But later on, her Very Bad Day, after we’d texted more and talked on the phone, I got this follow-up message from her: “as always, talking to you made me feel so much better.” Which is pretty much the best mom compliment I ever hope to get, on any kind of day.
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