What If We All Made An Effort To Talk About The Dark Side of Parenting Teens?

Raise your hand high if you’re perfect and your family is perfect, if your life is perfect…Right, so no hands were raised because we all know that nobody is perfect. Sure, we all present our best selves to the world – we take the happy, perfect family photo (and are thrilled inside when people comment that we are “beautiful”, etc) and we post photos of our wonderful lives.

We’re not being intentionally fake – it would be pretty odd to see a “real” family photo (I’m not talking about the ones where everyone is genuinely laughing or jumping in the air – those are awesome!) but ones where we showed our true, deep emotions of sadness, resentment, anger, fear, anxiety, worry, or stress. We say “Fine” or “Good” when people ask how we are doing. We seem relaxed and okay on the outside even when we are “white knuckling” our way sometimes through life.

So given all this, it’s no wonder people don’t know when it’s safe or who they can trust with their deeper, darker emotions – when they can open up and be honest. And sometimes when you do open up, people treat you differently – gently, in a way that feels like pity.

Why it's important to talk about parenting teens

I remember talking with a woman I’d just met a party. She was fun and funny and I was having a blast talking and laughing with her. As we chatted, our conversation naturally turned to the topic of family. She talked about her son and daughter and her daughter in heaven. It wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable – she spoke lovingly about each of her children. At one point she thanked me for talking to her like she was a regular Mom. She said she hadn’t laughed so freely since her daughter died just a year ago. Everyone who knew her treated her differently – not intentionally but out of kindness and maybe partially out of pity. It was the pity part that really bothered her. She understood it but made her feel like screaming, “I want to talk about my younger daughter like I do my other children, and don’t want you to look at me that way.” I loved her for being so honest.

Death and grief – not exactly recommended top party topics. Depression and anxiety with the added stigma and shame that go along with them make them pretty much taboo topics. So when we or someone we love is suffering, we talk in whispers and hypotheticals and dance around these subjects. And not just at parties, we do it in real life with real family and friends. As a result, people suffer in silence thinking they are the only ones. They don’t understand why everyone else is breezing through life and conquering the world when they can barely get through the day.

So what if we made a conscience decision to talk openly about difficult topics? To talk about what we really think and feel? In the right setting of course, not just blurting it out. But in our communities, our schools, our churches, our parenting circles with our friends and family. Imagine the comfort knowing that other people are going through what you and your family are experiencing.

Lately, I’ve been writing very open and real stories about topics that make people feel vulnerable – including me. As a result, people will reach out online and in person and say “I’m going through that too – I thought I was alone.” I’m pretty certain there are people who think to themselves, “You shouldn’t talk about that” but I say they are flat out wrong. We should all be saying “Let’s talk.” Let’s talk openly and honestly to our kids, our friends, our family, ourselves. There are so many resources available and so many organizations that are desperately trying to get public conversations going – do your part by bringing these resources and groups to your family, your friends, and your community. You never know who you might reach and who you might help. We must speak out and we must start talking.

Talking makes things better not worse and it assures people that it’s okay, you’re not alone. So please, the next time you think, “I can’t talk about that” – do it anyway. Too many of our kids are suffering because they think no one will understand – they are isolated and think they are alone. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, even fatal – we can’t keep that inside. This silent epidemic is killing people so let’s start talking and keep talking until everyone has been heard and seen and knows they have the love and support they need.


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About Tracy Hargen

Through her writing and work as a mental health advocate, Tracy Hargen shows people the importance of talking openly about difficult issues and getting help. Her family’s very personal journey with depression can be found on CBS This Morning. Look for her work on Grown and Flown and in the book Grown and Flown: How To Support Your Teen, Stay Close As A Family and Raise Independent Adults.

Read more posts by Tracy

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