As parents, we dream of our sons or daughters becoming successful and living a happy, fulfilled life. We set goals and expectations for them when they are young. What happens when they get older and they start to struggle in school, rebel against authority, or lash out when you tell them to do something productive? Your relationship is strained as you become angry, scared, and worried about their future. I experienced these emotions firsthand when my son became depressed and riddled with anxiety. Then, in 2018, when he tried to take his life, I knew something needed to change. Today, I am going to share 3 ways to understand your teen or young adult and rebuild your relationships: stop giving them advice; collaborate to help them expose their potential; and listen to what is important to them.
Stop giving them advice! Our advice generally SUCKS. It is based on our beliefs and experiences. Most teens and young adults believe they know everything and typically are not interested in our advice. The noise from our past experiences creeps in and the fears about our failures get passed on to our children. We tell them what we believe is best for them. Have you heard the story about the 5 monkeys? Long story short, 5 monkeys were placed in a room with bananas that were out of reach. A ladder was placed underneath, so the monkeys could reach the bananas. The first two monkeys were met with ice cold water sprayed in their faces. The third monkey was pulled down by the others and beaten. By the end of the story, none of the monkeys in the room had been sprayed with the ice cold water, and none of them tried to reach the bananas. Why? They learned from the failures and consequences of the monkeys before them. We fail to let our children experience their own pain and heartache and resolve their own situations. Put your past behind you, and allow them to find their own way.
Collaborate and work together to expose their potential. When my son tried to take his life, I couldn’t understand what he was going through. I loved him with all my heart; all I ever wanted was for him to be happy and successful in life. Where did I go wrong? I realized that I had done everything for him—gold stars and smiley stickers just for trying. I had stolen his self-confidence by taking care of the little things, keeping him out of trouble, and solving his problems for him. I didn’t give him the opportunity to ask questions, solve his own problems and discover who he was. I inadvertently sent the message that I didn’t believe he could do it himself. I was limiting his potential. Furthermore, it is vital to understand your child's love language. For my son, it was words of affirmation. I started letting him own the experiences and consequences of his choices and decisions; I stopped “fixing” his mistakes, and I started telling him how much I believed in him. I knew in my heart he had unlimited potential, and I started setting expectations to help move him out of his comfort zone and into his strengths.
Listen to what is important. When our kids are young, we set goals and expectations, and we have visions of grand accomplishments. We press our agendas onto them. More often than not, our agenda is not theirs. Depression and anxiety plague our teens and young adults. One reason for this is they feel they are unable to meet our expectations, causing self-doubt, broken communication, and potentially a broken relationship. As parents, we need to discover what excites them. What are their goals and dreams? My son is a history nut and strategist. He loves keeping up on the news and current events. I started learning more about what he was interested in so we could have a real conversation. As a result, he started to open up about problems or uncertainties that he is facing. Now, he says he feels heard and understood. He is open to new ideas and thoughts, and our relationship is stronger than ever.
In conclusion, we all want what is best for our children. We often give advice that is not relevant to their thought process. We try to help, thus limiting their potential. We don’t listen to what is important to them. Stop, Collaborate and Listen!
"You will teach them to fly, but they will not fly your flight. You will teach them to dream, but they will not dream your dream. You will teach them to live, but they will not live your life. Nevertheless, in every flight, in every life, in every dream, the print of the way you taught them will remain"—-Mother Teresa
Author: Laurie Kroeger