Let Teens Suffer… And Figure It Out

shutterstock_71682919-Let teens suffer B&W
As parents, it is very hard to witness your teen suffer. Your reflex is either to build a shield around them or give them the solution.

Think twice before letting your instinct take over. Wouldn’t it be better for your teenager to learn by himself/herself how to cope with life’s adversities?

It is very difficult to let your children make their own mistakes. Any parent wants to smooth over their kid’s tough situations. Not trying to make it easier means you don’t care. But, at the same time, not letting them struggle means that you act more for yourself than for your kid.

Teens face a lot of challenges every day: friendships, peers pressure, romantic relationships, sexuality, illegal drugs, social media, academic and parents’ pressure, etc.

It’s tempting to give them a solution. You have personally been through many of these same situations, and the right choice is often clear to you.

1- Keep in mind that teens almost never listen to parents.

2- It is nearly impossible for them to believe you were once just like them.

3- They certainly don’t want to even think that they can be like you were.

How to find the right balance between letting your kid struggle long enough to figure it out, yet know when to step in during situations that could potentially jeopardize their mental or physical safety? You want to step in only when they cannot handle the situation.

One way to help is by focusing on problem-solving. Try to ask your teen what he or she thinks would be the best way to handle a problem. See if you can help him or her think of several possible solutions, and guide him/her in thinking about potential outcomes for each course of action. You’ll be supporting your teen with your own experience, while giving him or her the space to think critically about the different options. You can also encourage your teen to discuss it with a friend she/he trusts, or to join a trustworthy community of teenagers like Give Us The Floor who’s mission is to have teens supporting each other.

Communication is an important skill to help deal with adversity. Teens need to be able to advocate for themselves and broach difficult or uncomfortable topics with others. Role-playing is a good way to help them develop these skills: it gives them the freedom to make mistakes, and gives you the opportunity to provide feedback. Try offering to role-play as a way to help your teen prepare for difficult conversations that he or she is facing. If she/he does not want to engage in this activity with you, again encourage her/him to do it with a friend.

IMPORTANT: If you see that your teen is in trouble but is not ready to share it with you, don’t push! Encourage them to talk about it with a peer they trust or with an adult they feel comfortable sharing it with. Don’t show that you are upset that she/he doesn’t want to tell you, it could be damaging to your relationship. Repeat that you love him/her, that you will always be here for him/her when they want and that you understand it is not easy to speak about certain things with your own parents. Leave the door open without pressuring.

It is difficult to step back and give your kid space to figure out how to overcome difficulties, as you know he or she will suffer on this path. However, remember that it is vital in order to develop problem-solving skills, resilience, and understand that they have power over their life and can be in charge.

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8 Comments on “Let Teens Suffer… And Figure It Out”

  1. Marie-Eve and Marco Says:

    Good article. Interesting title. Perhaps more like, “Helping teens figure it out, we can reduce suffering.”


  2. Marlaine Cover (@MamaMarlaine) Says:

    Important article! Most parents know their children will not learn much if they do their math literacy problems for them, but fail to see that solving their emotional literacy problems for them is the equivalent. Time for kids’ Mandatory Curriculum to earn equal respect as their academics. Grateful for your contributions!


  3. marty948 Says:

    Nice distinctions in this article, thanks. No “ways” of dealing with our children supercedes treating them as whole and able human beings, deserving of both respect and privacy. I especially like the acknowledgment of our concern as parents with their well-being jusxtaposed against “don’t push.” Asking permission to engage, question, advise, listen – as an invitation, not a demand – works well. There is a reason teens “almost never listen,” can’t or don’t “believe we were like them,” ” and can’t or don’t “believe they could be like we were.” We’ve not been good listeners, and we put our concerns before their explorative and inquistive learning natures. Sharing our concerns up front, as our concerns only, not as a lecture or demand they be or do something different, gives them an opportunity to contribute to us, and be really appreciated for who they are.


  4. waynejones2015 Says:

    Well thought-out article with some very solid suggestions. I agree that finding the balance is a key component in the relationship and being aware that the ground is always shifting is critical as well.


  5. Ian Jenkins Says:

    Great article! I go with much of what you say; while worrying a little about some of the broad-brush assumptions here for example where you say: “They certainly don’t want to even think that they can be like you were”. True in some cases not in others. Teens vary hugely in their intellectual development, depending on background hardships and difficulties they came through before becoming Teens. Often what they crave is a non-judgemental ear with unconditional but not overpowering love. I like to help mine ( First my own and now my grandchildren) by helping them identify choices, understanding the potential outcome of each choice they make and taking responsibility for the choice made, whether it turns out right or wrong. I will be there for them whatever they do and hopefully will have made a contribution to “My Teens” understanding values, choices, consequences, benefits, some sadness and a modicum of joy along the way!

    Ian Jenkins


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