Maxine Gower, LCSW, NCPsyA - Boulder Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy in person, via skype, or by phone. Please email or call (303) 875-5046

Empathy for Parents in Boulder: Riding the Adolescent Roller-Coaster

It is my hope that the small amount of information I offer here will make a difference in the lives of parents and their adolescents. Perhaps the information will serve to calm some situations and/or give parents an anchor while riding the adolescent roller-coaster. It may also give a sense of how I view adolescence and a feel for how I work with teens and their families in my Boulder based, private practice.

First and foremost, please know that the suffering that you feel as a parent has a direct relationship to how much your child is suffering as they transition into adulthood.

The reason adults feel “yo-yoed” around by adolescents and ready to pull their hair out, has everything do with how the adolescent (who is giving you those feelings) is feeling themselves. Teens are “neither fish nor fowl” – neither child nor adult. Not understanding these fluctuations in oneself (much less having words to explain what is happening) can make adolescents feel a bit crazy some of the time. Naturally, being around them, one can feel crazy some of the time too.

What teens do is act out what they are feeling (common teen problems and behavioral issues) through their actions. This is often done with the hope that adults will help them to understand what they are experiencing. After all, they know adults have “been there” and have somehow survived this stage! Adults must know something that teens need to know. The way that adolescents ask for help is by acting out their confusion and frustrations for others to see and feel. With hormones raging and surging, it is not always possible for them to be verbal and rational in the explication of their experience. Instead, what adolescents manage to do is get us to feel just the way that they do so that we can understand and respond.

Now, one would logically think that this would engender some understanding and compassion on the part of those who see and feel what teens are feeling. However, the way that most adolescents show us their angst can have the opposite effect. We usually want the behavior to stop and we want it to go away. Well it won’t for some time so we might as well learn about it.

The more that parents learn to not take the behavior of their teens personally, the more capable they will be of helping them. The more a parent is able to simply reflect back to a kid “how difficult this must be” and “how that truly sucks”, without trying to reason and talk teens out of their experience, the more bearable things will be. I know, I did not say “good”, I said bearable. It could be helpful at times to remember that you probably tortured your parents too in order to separate from them. If you cannot remember, just ask them, they will be only too happy to remind you!

Adolescents are feeling the pressure of middle/high school, societal demands and all sorts of changes that have neither stabilized nor integrated. At the same time they are tying to forge a separate identity, to be different and separate from their parents. They are being asked to be adults on the one hand while their ability to perform like adults is often doubted by the adults in their lives. In other words, adults are at times responsible for giving teens the feeling that they are not ready for some of the tasks of adulthood, while telling that they are beyond the tasks of childhood. Family counseling with teens can be of help in this and other regards.

This can be a tough time for all. As much as I enjoy working with teens and helping them grow, I also empathize with parents and like to be a resource for them as they go through this developmental stage with their kids. It is such a crucial phase and parents can do a lot to help their children mature. Support, useful information and skill can help parents to parent. Please be in touch and let me know if you would like more information abut how to deal with behavioral issues and problems common to teens, skills and/or support in raising your adolescent, teen or family counseling at my Boulder office and most of all, Good Luck! 


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