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December 22, 2020

How to Help Teens to Slay their Demons (Hint: It is not Telling them What to Do).

Life can be messy. As an adult, we know that already, but as a teenager, it can hit us like a slap in the face.

Most teens we talk to, not a superficial conversation, but one where they finally spill the words they’ve cooped up inside their growing minds, will say, “I’m treated like a kid and expected to act like an adult.”

Parents say to their children that they know what we’re going through. They claim that they lived through it themselves. I have something to say to that:

Have you lived through a global pandemic as a teenager? Had to navigate the obstacle of online learning? Face the growing peer pressure to have sex at a young age, get addicted to drugs, drop out of high school, and get lost in a hole so deep you don’t even know which way is up?

I understand that those ideas are nothing new. However, they are all too accessible these days. There’s always somebody who has a brother whose friend’s cousin knows a guy.

On top of that, there is the contradictory expectation from parents who want their kids to grow up and go to university and balance good friends, studies, a part-time job, extra-curriculums, family time, and more—while still being disciplined like a child.

We are also asked to choose what to do with our future while we don’t even know who we are with each passing day. No wonder that a majority of teenagers have mental health problems—some diagnosed and most undiagnosed. That term is tossed around so frequently that it has begun to feel like a negative designation.

Mental health, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or being bipolar, where do you think all that stems from? Are our kids just making this up? Or does it have to do with the fact that more and more teens are suffering from childhood trauma, substance abuse, and stress from the expectation to do well in school and cope with the everyday pressures of being a teen?

Being a child of divorce and messy family dynamics, I know that it can be extremely difficult to keep smiling. Growing up, all my friends still had two parents. I was always the one having to explain why I called my mom by her first name. She’s not my mom, I would say. She’s my step-mom. In French class, I was the only one who needed to ask how to say “step-mom.”

Belle mere. Beautiful mother. No doubt, I lucked out there.

My step-mom has been a tremendous supporter in my life, even more than my biological mother. She is beautiful inside and out and talked me off the ledge when I was going through an extremely difficult time. Several contributors led to that dark day, but the one reason I sought help was my trust in her.

My family. My wonderful, chaotic, and dysfunctional family. So many other teens don’t get that experience. They don’t get a new chance to love life after hitting rock bottom.

Parents can try—they can offer help or set up counseling, but the truth is, your teen will not speak unless they feel like you actually want to listen. They don’t want you to just hear them—they want you to listen. Maybe they aren’t looking for advice, but for a parent who genuinely cares.

It is up to us to decide how we show that we care. How can we find a way that touches the heart of our child?

Next time, before scolding your teen or telling them a story beginning with—when I was your age—consider that they might be really struggling.

If you are feeling stuck as a grown adult, just imagine for a moment how your kid feels. We all have our demons. Help your teen slay theirs by actually listening to them.

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