Do you see your teen lounging around--eyes glued to their phone constantly--and worry about what kind of adult they’re going to become and what on earth they’re going to do with their lives? You might be frustrated with their lack of caring . . . about seemingly anything serious or with their ability to sleep 17 hours a day or with how you have to tell them 8 times to unload the dishwasher, and you wonder when they’ll fiiiiinally get it together.
Uh huh, I hear this from a lot of parents. You love your kid and want the best for them, and naturally, you worry when you see your teen moving closer toward adulthood and still acting so . . . childish.
You know that nagging, pleading, screaming, and cajoling don’t work very well--not to mention how unhappy they make you and your whole family. So, what else can you do?
Find out what your teen cares about. Your first thought might be nothing. Or, their phone, their friends, and not much else. The interesting thing is--adolescent brains are actually developing to creatively and energetically focus on their passions. The difficulty is that the rote tedium of school, homework, chores, and daily routines do not excite most teens. In fact, much of how our system is set-up drains the care and energy right out of teenagers (and often adults too). However, I have yet to meet a teen who didn’t have passion in some area, whether that be music, environmentalism, art, travel, starting a new extracurricular club, learning all they can about a particular topic, being a supportive friend or so on. The catch is that your teen may not value the same things that you value, and that’s perfectly okay. (As a reminder, their brains still have a TON of developing to do, so you can also reassure yourself that these passions my change as they grow and mature.) Whether you and your teen have the same interests or not, your teen will really benefit from you showing that you’re interested in and curious about what they care about. And, the best way to do this is to just ask and then really listen.
If your teen’s been feeling depressed, stressed, or overwhelmed with life and aren’t sure what they care about or if they just haven’t found their passions yet, that’s okay. Just get curious with them. Explore learning about new things together, or try going on some new family outings—maybe visit the art museum or try out ice skating. Give your teen space to like or completely dislike the activity, and try your best not to take their reactions personally. Try to focus on your own enjoyment of the activity, and let your teen express and manage their own emotions about it. (This is also good practice at letting them grow into their own person with their own thoughts and feelings.)
Support your teen in exploring their interests. Maybe they’d like your help finding a travel abroad opportunity where they can volunteer for a cause they care about. Perhaps they’d like to hone their skills and try out for the basketball team. Maybe there’s a poetry writing workshop or club you could tell them about or help them get connected to.
Read, watch, listen, and discuss current events and interesting issues as a family. Talk to your teen about the news story you heard, and ask their thoughts about it. Share about the TED talk you saw or the interesting podcast you listened to. Have conversations with your kid about issues in the adult world. Teens often light up when having a discussion about more serious topics, especially when adults are curious about their take on the subject. This practice helps develop your teen’s ability to think abstractly and taps into adolescents’ natural curiosity, all while giving you and your teen the opportunity to become closer.
Practice negotiation. Talk to your kid about why certain rules exist, your rationale for your decisions, and allow them to negotiate. The developing brain of teenagers craves knowing the why behind things. Teens naturally start questioning what they see around them. This is part of growing into a well-functioning adult. Frustrating (perhaps even maddening) though it can be at times, try to honestly answer your teen’s questions, dialogue with them about their thoughts, and let them make their argument. If you think they have a solid rationale or you understand their point, negotiate about some logistics. Of course, you are always the final judge. Involving your teen in the process not only helps get their buy-in but also helps them feel more empowered, supports their development as a healthy human being, improves their communication skills, and lets them know that their passions, values, interests, and concerns matter to you. All things we want, right?
Basically, we all feel better when our lives have meaning and purpose. Teens can feel really stuck because they often have little say in how their time is spent—school, homework, chores and/or work can eat up a lot of time and energy. However, we’re all happier and healthier when we make time to focus on what we care about. This kind of values-driven living enhances us as people. Developmentally, teens are wired to become bored easily, but they’re also wired to think and feel passionately, and they tend to have creative ways of looking at the world. Help them tap into that. Give them space for life to move beyond monotony into what sparks their interest, and I bet you’ll see more of that energy and motivation you’ve been hoping for.
Ivy Griffin, LMFT # 51714, Director
Thrive Therapy & Counseling
1614 X St., Suite A
Sacramento, CA 95818
PS--Worried your teen is stuck in their depression or stress or just need some help for your family? We’ve got you covered.