Dr. Charlotte Howard, a psychologist at Deep Eddy Psychotherapy in Austin, TX, talks about the difficulties of raising a rebellious teenager and how we can find peace through compassionate action.
How do I manage a rebellious teen who is just all over the place doing literally whatever they want and not listening to me who is an authority figure?
It can be so sad to watch a teenager hurting themselves and doing things that you can’t really control. It’s easy to just get in a power struggle or feel really helpless. At that point, in a way, we’ve already dealt the hand and they’re playing out things that happened a lot earlier in life and their relationship with you throughout their life up to that point. All we can really do is get behind them and love them and support them in searching for who they are–becoming their best self.
Love and Support is the Only Effective Strategy for a Parent
I just can’t emphasize enough how really only love and support is the only thing that’s effective. They ultimately have power by that age. By the time they’re teenagers, there’s almost nothing that you can do. You can kick them out, but that may not stop their self-destructiveness. They really are in charge no matter what rules we make (or if we watch them every second that could work until they leave home and then they rebel even harder at that point). They have the power to destroy their lives or not.
Use Compassion and Curiosity
So, what can you do? Compassion and curiosity—asking what their world is like and really believing it. Listening and getting behind them. Asking, “What do you need? I hear you don’t feel good about yourself, what can I do?” Even if they’re just shutting you out and pushing away really hard, you say consistently, “I love you so much. I’m here. I’m really sad to see you suffering like this and I know what a beautiful person you are. I see it.” You just continue reflecting the deeper truth back to them and over and over.
Never Come Down on Your Teenager
It’s painful but very important not to come down on them. We want to avoid things like, “Oh, if you’re not going to get this together, you’re gonna be a failure. How do you think you are going to feel if your friends graduate and you don’t?” That just creates a sense that they’re bad, which is probably what’s creating their lack of motivation and rebellion in the first place. That sense of fear, failure, and hating themselves creates shame, which is immobilizing, and they become so anxious that they can’t perform in any way.
How can a therapist act as a coach for a parent? How can therapy be a way for parents to have an easier time with their rebellious kid?
For the parents, it’s really important to have someone caring for them. A lot is asked of a parent. They are asked to be patient, loving, and give the true medicine, and the true care and have it be pure–coming from vulnerability and not from judgment or fear or their own childhood issues. To be able to do your own personal healing work really helps that vessel to be what it needs to be to hold your child.
It’s Stressful Being a Parent
It’s just so stressful being a parent at times, so we need someone to nurture us. Ultimately, through therapy we want to learn how to be a really, really good mom to yourself or father to yourself–a good, loving, nurturing presence for yourself. That’s learned through therapy and, sometimes, even if we’re really good at nurturing ourselves, we still need to ask for more support and have someone else really holding the stress with us also.
Starting Parental Therapy in Austin, TX
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