Your teenager is REALLY resilient.

It may be hard to believe, but it’s true! Have you ever wondered why your son or daughter may be inconsolable one minute and ready to bolt out the door the next? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately in my conversations with teens in all sorts of places- the office, at home, with my daughter’s friend group, at soccer games, in family therapy. And what I’ve seen goes something like this:

BIG emotions, LOTS of important disclosure, STRUGGLING MIGHTILY as the waves come up and go over the edge of composure……then some calm, some more calm….and then a smile peeking through tears. And then:

“Can I go out tonight? “____________” is having a kickback”.

So, even though I’M still back at BIG EMOTIONS, my adult/teen conversation is over! What?!

That’s what I mean when I say teens are resilient. I got to thinking about this, and I’ve noticed some common threads weaving through these conversations. I wonder if you’ve seen it too?

  • Adolescents’ naturally developing social skills mean they are hugely invested in developing and maintaining relationships. Put another way, adolescents ferociously value creating belonging and significance. These are two essential qualities that buoy all of us when we’re feeling down or have gotten stuck in a negative-thoughts feedback loop. Relationships disrupt the thoughts that have gotten stuck in this loop and offer new information. New information allows us to access positive or encouraging thoughts or feelings.
  • Those overwhelming waves of emotions allow teens to be open to receiving positive emotions. The parts of our brains responsible for emotional processing are more mature than the parts responsible for reason or logic in an adolescent. It works in their favor, because even when they’re sad or angry, a caring touch, encouragement, and love can get through as well.
  • Our teens are naturally curious and very open-minded. They will readily try new things, like a healthy coping tool for emotional expression, or learning a breathing technique, or, when they’re calm, a different perspective on their problem. People who learn and practice healthy coping tools can increase distress tolerance and have resilience in the face of negative emotions.
  • Lots of spontaneity and an inner night owl  means teens can, at a moment’s notice, be in the right place at the right time to hear something funny, get distracted, or get a much needed hug. Taking advantage of jumping into a group means immediate access to feeling a sense of belonging.
  • Teens feel valuable to others because they value other’s emotions without having to think twice about it. This can show up as a high level of empathy and compassion for others, help them keep good friends, and decrease the tendency to isolate themselves.

Parents, you can support teenagers reconnecting with these natural strengths.

Without abandoning important boundaries for safety and mutual respect, you can help your teen help themselves by gently communicating your faith in their ability to bounce back. You can share how much you love them and see their situation as temporary when they’re ready to hear it. And, if they’ve been feeling down- and then confuse you- by asking for permission to go out on a school night and their homework isn’t done, or hang out with a friend you haven’t met yet, or have extra time on their phone, or take the car out for a drive…do a quick mental safety check, ask the necessary bottom line questions, and maybe this is the time to make an exception. Maybe they’re working on their resiliency and righting themselves.

Would you be willing to try this and let me know how it goes? I’d be thrilled to hear about it! Leave me a comment in the section below, or ask me something that’s on your mind. And…I’m parenting right alongside you.

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