Opinion

Parents and teens need to let go amid the teenage pressure cooker | GUEST COLUMN

Tara Murphy -
Tara Murphy
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BY TARA MURPHY

Winter is upon us and as the first half of the school year is buzzing by many young adults are already knee deep in college applications and making future plans, and inevitably, many Bainbridge Island families are facing the task of letting go.

Truthfully, this theme rings just as true for teens who are still at home, as the process of letting go for parents and teens is a long and complex one that starts long before high school graduation.

In case you haven’t noticed, independence is a major theme for families with adolescents, and obviously for teens themselves. Negotiating what teens can realistically handle and what parents are comfortable with is no small task and at times can get rocky.

How much responsibility and autonomy is too much? How much is too little? The boundaries are different for each family, but a little bit of empathy on both sides can help loosen up that gridlock and promote some positive connection while you’re finding middle ground (even if that is agreeing to disagree).

Parents: In the gradual process of differentiation, it is important to remember that teens are people, not just your child! They are usually chomping at the bit to establish independence and to remind you that they are not you, they are them!

Just like letting go is hard, so is building an identity. I’ve certainly never heard anyone say, “I wish I was a teenager again!” Kids and teens can get smooshed in our often adultist society. Adults are the ones with the most power in the relationship, therefore we have to be the ones to take the first step in bringing compassion, playfulness and understanding to our communication with youth.

It can be hard for us adults to remember what it was like to have limited say in our lives, but remember that first day you could drive without your parents in the car? It was pure freedom and you likely felt like you were just a little more, well, you!

Keep that in mind when you’re negotiating the expectations, it might not change your bottom line, but will help you show more empathy to your teen and a little bit of understanding goes a long way in making them feel seen and heard.

Teens: Being a teen is hard and often times it’s emotional. There’s little that is more frustrating than feeling misunderstood and powerless and most adolescents feel either or both at some point, but when you freak out it takes away credibility from your probably pretty logical and valid reasons for feeling the way you do.

If you’re being abrasive and angry, you give away a lot of your power in the exchange as well as the opportunity to be seen as a young adult who is competent! Yes, I’m talking about you!

Use your words and let your voice show up in a way that honors your intelligence and respect for yourself. Even if you’re parents are losing it, you’ll be setting a fabulous example for how you would like to be spoken to.

Also, keep in mind that your parents love you and they are (hopefully) doing the best they can. Have a little patience because letting go is tough and moving into young adulthood can be a tricky shift for everyone.

Working through all of this can sometimes be overwhelming. If you or your teen are struggling and need some help, BYS is one resource.

Tara Murphy is a counselor with Bainbridge Youth Services, which provides community youth (ages 12-19) with no-cost, confidential and high quality professional counseling. Bainbridge Youth Services can be reached at 206-842-9675.

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