There's one thing teenagers need more than constant communication.
My oldest daughter just turned 12, and like clockwork we have entered a new phase of life: adolescence.
It’s a fancy word for what has begun to manifest primarily in eye-rolling and door-slamming, but there have been a couple afternoons of dour silence when I found myself playing 20 questions with a daughter who had seemingly transformed herself into a brick wall.
This is new terrain for us. Like me, Sienna likes to talk. Also like me, her silence is a way of communicating something … I just can’t always figure out exactly what that is, which can fill me with a distress akin to panic. What if I’m missing something important? What if I’ve done something unforgivable? What if her silence is a cry for help and I’m not helping the right way?
I know it’s a pretty over-the-top response to standard teenage grumpiness, which is why this article in the New York Times by psychologist Lisa Damour about how to handle adolescent angst was so timely:
There’s more value in providing tender, generic support than we might imagine. It is difficult for teenagers to maintain perspective all the time. The speed of adolescent development sometimes makes teenagers lose their emotional footing and worry that they will never feel right again. We send our teenagers a powerful, reassuring message when we accept and are not alarmed by their inscrutable unease: I can bear your distress, and you can, too.
I’m not so old that I don’t remember being a teenager, including all the angst that went along with it. My dad knocking quietly on my door when he got home from work to ask me if everything was okay and if there was anything I wanted to talk about was a regular feature of my afternoons for years.
Sometimes I told him what was bothering me, sometimes I didn’t. It isn’t really those conversations that I remember most, though … it’s the way I could count on him asking. I knew he cared, and the comfort and security of my dad’s affection got me through more hard times than he knows.
It’s true that psychologically healthy teens will go through the ups and downs of adolescence and come through it okay. It’s also true that much like toddlers, teenagers need to feel assured of their parents love despite their often grumpy and surly moods. Figuring out what’s causing the surliness isn’t always (or often) the most important thing — loving them through it is.