If you’re overwhelmed with school work or extracurricular obligations, whom do you go to for support? What about if you have a conflict with a friend or classmate?
Are there specific circumstances when you seek support from your parents and other adults? Are there things you don’t like your parents to say or do when you share your problems with them?
Adolescents, just like adults, may find the best relief from simply articulating their worries and concerns. Indeed, it’s an aphorism among psychologists that most problems feel better when they’re on the outside rather than on the inside, and this holds true whether the difficulties are big or small.
When teenagers bring problems our way, it’s best to start by assuming that they aren’t inviting suggestions, or at least are not inviting them yet. So let them vent.
“I’ll talk to my parents as a sounding board,” says 18-year-old Kathleen Deedy of Mission Hills, Kan., “especially if it’s not enough of an issue for me to want to do something about it. I just want to get it off my chest.”
Adolescents may also share what’s on their minds as a way to spill their jumbled thoughts on the table, where they can survey and perhaps organize them. According to 15-year-old Isla Steven-Schneider of Emerald Hills, Calif., “to list the problem, to put it into words, that helps a lot.” Adults can help create the space teenagers need to do this, so long as we remember to listen without interrupting and hold back from adding our own thoughts to the pile.
… Much of what bothers teenagers cannot be solved. We can’t fix their broken hearts, prevent their social dramas, or do anything about the fact that they have three huge tests scheduled for the same day. But having a problem is not nearly so bad as feeling utterly alone with it.
Teenagers often have difficulties they feel like sharing, but not with their friends. At these times, they may come to us, but looking only for empathy, not solutions. Offering a sincere, “Oh man, that stinks,” or “You have every right to be upset,” lets them know that we are willing to keep them company in their distress.
What is your reaction to the advice given to parents in the article? In your experience, is it easy and productive, or hard and uncomfortable, when you share your problems with your parents? How much of what Ms. Damour advises do your parents practice?
Are there other adults in your life, like teachers or coaches, who you can turn to for support? Why do you think parents and teenagers often struggle to have these conversations with one another?
Describe a time when you received helpful or meaningful advice from an adult. How did you approach them with your problem? How did they respond as you were speaking? What did they say afterward and why was it helpful? What do you think parents can learn from your example?
Ms. Damour begins the featured article by describing “a puzzling sequence of events,” saying: “First, teenagers bring us their problems; second, we earnestly offer suggestions and solutions; and third, teenagers dismiss our ideas as irritating, irrelevant or both.” Have you ever experienced this dynamic when you have shared your problems with adults? What insight do you have as to why this happens? How do you think it can be avoided or what do you think can allow for a more open conversation?
This article suggests that much of the time teenagers simply want to be listened to; they’re not looking for a list of suggestions and solutions. But sometimes, Ms. Damour writes, advice can help. In general, when would you say you had simply wanted to be listened to, and when did you want advice? Why?
Ms. Damour’s article focuses on how parents can support their teenage children, but have there been times when you would rather turn to a friend for advice? Do you find that your friends give better or worse support when you talk to them about your problems? How do you choose what you share with your friends? Do you feel better understood by your friends or your parents? Why or why not? How do you think your friends can better support you?
Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.