Adolescents, as they struggle through issues of identity and finding their unique place in the world, will often deal with difficult personal, spiritual and emotional questions that require a venue for discussion and insight. As opposed to perhaps merely hearing something for the first time, teenagers today have already been exposed to experiences and situations that have at least begun to get them thinking about “life issues.”
Besides this distinction, I think that it is important to mention a few other things that specifically relate to adolescent development:
1) Teenagers have access to information at an unprecedented pace. If they are searching for information, they can go to social media or the internet and get plenty of information.
2) Whether or not your teenager would want to communicate a difficult matter to you may depend on your overall relationship with your teenage child.
3) The presenting issue may be based on a religious matter. Do parents feel competent in assisting their children with these issues?
4) Many adolescents are very good at keeping their feelings to themselves. If something is going on in their life, there is a strong chance they may not want to tell their parents what is really going on.
So how can we become proactive parents and learn to assist our teenage children through challenging times? Some tough or challenging issues that may arise in adolescence include any of the following:
1) Understanding difficult life events. An example of this may be hearing about a tragic death in the community.
2) Understanding difficult world events. An example may be an adolescent who begins to question God’s role in the Holocaust.
3) Questioning changing family circumstances. An example may be a divorce in the family, a parent losing a job or a need to relocate a family due to a change of job.
Here are some helpful guidelines in helping adolescents confront difficult life events:
1) Become a proactive parent. If something is changing or may change in family life, speak to them about it! Get their feelings on the issue and let them know that you understand that change may take time to get used to.
2) Don’t lecture! Before you begin to lecture, allow them to share their feelings even if they seem unsure or confused about the issue. Consider the example of a mother who asks her son Jon about a special school assembly that was held due to the tragic death of a classmate. In this case, the mother should not begin a discussion with the facts on how teenagers deal with grief or how she dealt with it as a child. The opening should allow her son to express his feelings and impressions about the assembly.
3) Children can benefit greatly from the advice and wisdom of their parents. Parents should not feel that a past story about something in their childhood, for example, would be not appropriate to share. Sharing ourselves and our life experiences can be very beneficial to teenagers, as it often provides meaningful perspective and insight that can be directly applied to their lives. Let’s consider the same example that we cited above: It can be extremely beneficial if Jon knew that his mother, when she was a child, also dealt with a close friend who lost her mother at the age of 10. Sharing her own perspective can be very important to help Jon work through this difficult issue.
4) Parents should provide space but always keep the door open for discussion opportunities. Feelings and the expression of those feelings are hard for teenagers. After a tough day at school, they may be too tired to process the school’s Holocaust program or speak about the special program in school regarding healthy teen relationships. However, parents should not feel that their words are not important and that their teenage children have no interest in hearing from them. There is a time and place for everything!
By Mark Staum
Mark Staum, LCSW, is an educator, therapist and a frequent contributor to The Jewish Link.