What Parents Really Need When Their Teens Are Struggling

When kids struggle, their parents struggle. This sentiment has never been truer than when your kids hit the teen years.

Sure, while they aren’t quite grasping toilet- training, or their sleep habits have zero consistency it’s frustrating. But not only do you know it will pass, you can talk about it.

I think the old saying, “Big kids, big problems” was coined to warn us that when our kids grow up, their struggles can claim us and have the capacity to consume our every waking moment. There are times when I feel like my kids are walking champagne glasses and if I handle them the wrong way, I’ll break them in a way they can’t be fixed.

My Daughter Became Depressed Last Year

Last year was one of those times. My daughter became depressed. It felt like she changed overnight. Because I was overwhelmed with worry about how quiet and withdrawn she’d been, and how much time she spent crying every day, I resorted to reading her texts. That’s how I found out she was cutting herself.

She was dating a young man who was into drugs and who was giving his teachers a hard time. He was breaking all the rules. They didn’t see each other outside of school, but the little they did see each other each day, and their online communication was enough to be toxic.

He made her feel awful about herself, but she loved him—those were her words. He’d reel her in with messages telling her how much he loved her, then he’d turn on her and start fights without warning. She never knew when it was coming.

I found out she was cutting after reading one of his messages that said, “Are you going to go cut now? I know you want to.”

The way he acted wasn’t totally his fault and I tried to have empathy for this boy— his mother traded him for drugs. His father left, and his uncle took him in but could not have cared less about him or his well- being.

I got my daughter into counseling, loved her as hard as I could, and tried to make her understand her boyfriend was not showing her love. He was showing her all he was capable of because that’s all he’d known. She needed to walk away and set a hard boundary in order to get herself healthy.

Fortunately, it didn’t take her long to get her feet on the ground and come out of her anxiety and depression. But it was a close call, way too close and my daughter got lucky.

A few years prior my teenage son was struggling— with something much different but it felt just as tumultuous.

woman looking out the window of a train
I learned a lot about what parents of teens need when their kids are struggling after going through this with my kids. (Twenty20 @WR36)

When your teens struggle you need to be able to get support from fellow parents.

Reaching out to people to seek advice was what I needed in both of these situations. I simply cannot Pollyanna my way through life. It’s not who I am, or how I want to teach my kids to be. It’s okay to talk about these things, but many parents of teens don’t and I think I know why. It’s hard to find a friend and get what you need when your kids are struggling.

In the midst of all I’ve gone through with my kids, I did get support, but not a lot.

People don’t like to talk about the things your teens are doing if doesn’t involve winning games, applying for colleges, or volunteering, especially if your teen is up to no good.

They are quick to judge and shield themselves and their family from your “bad kid.”

Big kids look like adults and when they act less-than, or are going through a tough time, they are judged. And, as their parent, you too are judged.

I learned a lot about what parents of teens need when their kids are struggling after going through this with my kids: We need someone to listen to us, not to judge us. We need someone to have an open mind and help us come up with useful solutions. Those little gestures go a long way.

It’s really hard for a parent to watch their teen struggle. We aren’t just dealing with little school and friendship dramas anymore. We need to be supported through these difficult times as we are trying to support our kids.

Most of the time we just need to feel like we can vent. We need a sounding board. Someone who will make us feel little more confident that we can actually get through it all. We often shut down when things are going wrong for our kids. But there’s power in simply sitting next to someone who makes you feel like you’ve been heard.

I’m pretty sure all parents of teens agree that they need a safe place to vent with the big problem, the little problems, and everything in between.

Having gone through problems with my one kids, I know what to give other parents who are in the thick of it with their teens. I was lucky that a few people were able to give me what I needed and I’ll forever be grateful.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

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About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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