As a Potomac, MD family counseling therapist, working with teenagers has been one of the more rewarding aspects of my career thus far because I feel that I have been able to really connect with and help most teenagers that walk into my office. I wish I could say I had discovered a huge secret about how to connect with them and guide them on their therapeutic journey. However, my secret is fairly simple and, honestly, anyone can do it. My BIG secret is to simply listen to them, and I want their parents to learn to do this too.
As children grow up and enter adolescence, they are starting to experience life with less and less help from their parents. Adolescents are forming their own opinions and beginning to separate from their parents as they practice for their future life on their own. They are building confidence to eventually “leave the nest.” Additionally, their brains are in developmental flux causing what outsiders see as strange and irrational behavior. Teenagers often, seemingly overnight, become strong-willed and out of control – scary to parents who are accustomed to their sweet little child from a year or two ago. Then, they land in my Rockville MD family counseling office.
Oftentimes arguments between the parents and teen have escalated and come to a standoff with neither talking or listening to the other. As an intermediary, I will meet with the teenager alone for several sessions to gain their trust. This is where the listening comes in! I listen to their struggles as teenager, validate them, and help them with problem-solving. I do not necessarily agree with all of their choices, but their feelings are quite valid and they often marvel that an adult could understand them. After trust is gained with the teen, I will work with the parents and help them understand and listen. (At the same time, I can help the teenager to understand their parent’s point of view because, at this point, they trust that I would not steer them wrong. Usually teens are able to admit that their parents are right!)
Now, I have the advantage that I have been putting myself in the world of a teenager for years whereas, for most parents, it has been a long time since they have dabbled in what it is like to be a teenager. Parents tend to forget that the pain associated with teenage problems are very real. For example, I find that parents, rather than validate, tend to minimize the meaning of first relationships and break-ups, ie “You will get over it” and “there will be someone else” and “You are only 16, it is no big deal…” One of my jobs as a therapist is to help the parents learn how to understand the reality of their teen’s pain and that, by dismissing it, they are losing a chance to really connect with their teenager.
I am not saying this is an easy task for parents at all. But with family counseling Rockville MD can trust, it gets a little easier. When a teenager is making poor choices and I am asking parents to listen to them, try to understand, and validate the feelings (not the choices!), I understand that this may seem counterintuitive. But, when they see the outcome of having a teenager that actually comes to them with their problems and trusts that they will not get in trouble or yelled at when what they need is help, parents see that the approach is necessary and effective.
To sum it all up and to give a piece of advice to all parents (and risk putting myself out of business), make every effort to avoid minimizing your teenager’s experience and feelings and do your best to try to understand where they are coming from. If you minimize and contradict, you run the risk that they will no longer come to you for help and support and, instead, rebel further. If you are struggling with this, my Potomac MD family counseling office door is always open to help you along the difficult journey or raising teenagers.