This year marks my tenth anniversary as an high school educator, and let me tell you one thing you probably already know: Teenagers are simultaneously the most fun and most frustrating humans you will encounter – often all in one day. (Kind of like my two-year-old, now that I’m thinking of it.)
Call me crazy, but I love working with these hormonal, hilarious humans. Their inner worlds and social lives are both fascinating and a bit terrifying for anyone who’s brave enough to try to figure out what makes them tick. If you have a teenager in your life and are looking for the answer to that last question, it’s actually quite simple – in theory, though not always in practice.
They need to be heard.
Simple, right? Wrong. When a teenager is coming at you for the umpteenth time with their complaints about their math teacher, their dramatic friends, their boyfriend having a streak on Snapchat with another girl (yes, it’s a thing) – especially when emotions are running high and coping skills are running low – it’s easy to brush it off as another teenage drama that’s not a “real” problem. They have no idea, you think to yourself. After all, you’re dealing with your job, utility bills, health insurance, car repairs, other children, ailing parents, meetings, and grocery lists. You’re stressed out and your patience is thin. (I remember very clearly the days of my 16-year-old-self crying in my room, having no idea why I was as upset as I was, and my mom throwing up her hands in exasperation.)
The next time you’re on the receiving end of a teen’s moment of crisis, try this: Take a deep breath, look them in the eye, and really listen.
Even more, respond with a validating statement like, “Wow, that sounds really stressful” or “It’s normal to feel like that sometimes.” Let them vent without getting angry at them. It will work wonders, I promise. It just might take the wind out of their sails. And if it doesn’t, at least you haven’t fueled the fire by responding with an irritated outburst.
You might take that moment to build a little resiliency, too. No, not “Get over it” (now that you said that, they won’t) or “It will be fine” (they don’t know that), but rather, “Hey, this situation isn’t something you can control, but I’m really impressed with how you’ve handled it.” Or, “I’m really proud of you for going to school even when you’re facing this problem.”
Just remember this: We were there once, too. Sure, those little molehill problems of teenage life eventually get lost in the very real mountains of adult stress. But remember how terrible it was fighting with your friends back in middle school? Remember that boy or girl you agonized over? Remember that crushing feeling of missing those free throws in the championship basketball game? Don’t forget how devastating those things felt – and don’t forget how it felt to have an adult to hear you, to validate you, in those moments.
Be that adult.