We all know parenting is the hardest job of all: we hear it, we read it, we feel it. With each stage comes another obstacle we must overcome. We try, we fall, we get back up and try something different.
With each age comes a new stage and the teenage years are absolutely no exception. In fact, for me, they’ve been the toughest mountain to climb, but I know I am not alone and my story can help others.
This past month I’ve started my teenage son in therapy; he used to be such a happy child. He was expressive, full of zest, and would look forward to simple things like spending an afternoon with extended family, or simply building a bonfire in the backyard with his father. After he hit puberty I noticed a drastic change in his behavior. He wasn’t just quiet – he seemed angry.
He didn’t just have misunderstandings at school with his friends – he was getting in physical altercations. Some told me his new quiet disposition was normal, teenage years are filled with angst, experimenting, and confusion emotions, but there was something telling me it was more than that, and I was right.
I could not help by think, He comes from a loving, happy home, we give him everything he could ever need, he is supported, what am I doing wrong?
What quickly started out as him pulling away led to experimenting with marijuana, engaging in sexual behavior, and fighting at school. There have been times when he was caught breaking the rules and those are the times he admits everything and opens up about his reckless behavior.
This was really hard to take – while we all know and understand some experimenting is normal for these years, something was nagging at me there was more to the story. It seemed his careless and always getting caught was a cry for help.
Depression runs in my family and I’ve always wondered if it would affect my children. I felt like I was starting to see some of his behaviors blossoming because he was depressed. And when I asked if he was doing these things just to try them, or because he was trying to take away some of his anger, he admitted he was angry and looking for an escape. And really, he just didn’t feel like he used to; he doesn’t feel excited or happy anymore.
No one wants that for their teenager. I knew I had to do something because our current situation: him engaging in dangerous behavior and being punished for it while knowing full well he has access to open communication with me and his father, was not working at all.
I tried tough love. I tried spending extra time with him. I took away privileges including all devices and spending time with friends. I took away all his spending money, and I had long talks with him, let him know I was there for him, and that I understood.
But there was no change. The experimenting continued as soon as his punishment was up – even if said punishment was a month-long and he said he learned his lesson.
The fighting in school was still happening and I got tired of faulting myself and crying about on a daily basis. My child needs more help than I can give him; he is crying for it, and that is okay. It took me a while to get to this point, but I had to forgive myself, and him, and see the bigger picture:
Sure, I can keep him locked up for another 4 years causing him to feel angrier and alone. Or I can be proactive and get him in therapy and hope we gets the tools he needs to overcome this monster he is trying to fight every day.
I have to say to all the parents out there struggling with older kids, to go easy on yourself if you find you are in a similar situation. There are so many tools and resources out there for out teens today and there is no shame in asking for help. You know the difference between normal teen behavior and experimenting as opposed to something more serious going on.
It’s not the end of the world – although it may feel that way – and you and your child can get through this together. Even though they don’t act like it, they need you now more than ever.
My son has started cognitive therapy which is helping him understand how his thoughts and emotions affect his actions. He is getting great information and resources that are helping him. I’ve already seen a difference after two sessions. He was provoked in school and did not fight back. He reached out and gave me a hug this morning for the first time in months. He seems more calm, and I not even sure the change is from the tools in he’s been given in therapy, or if he just knows I have his back.
I do know we are all in, we are fighting this together, and I am hopeful this will help him for the rest of his life.