Manage Your Own Helplessness First

As a parent of a teenager, you will sooner or later reach a point where you feel helpless.  You will feel like you have little to no control over your son, often triggering the feeling of fear. When this happens, it is so easy to project your helplessness and fear on him. While helplessness and fear are two of the most common emotions I observe in parents of teenagers, I also see parents putting their own sadness, anger and shame on their son’s plate.  Trust me. Your son has enough of these emotions without having to take on yours.

When I am talking one on one with a teenage in my office, I am often so surprised to observe how well most of them are doing.  Especially after having spoken to his parents about how scared and concerned they are, and how happy or sad they think their son is. While their concerns can have some validity, it is critical for parents to spend some time exploring what their biggest fears and concerns are for their teenagers. 

If you are having troubles identifying your fears and concerns, here are some tips. Ask yourself these questions:
• What was your biggest struggle as a teenager?
• What is your biggest challenge as an adult?
• What experience that you had are you trying to prevent your son from having?
• What do you want most for your son (i.e. to be happy, to enjoy life)

I cannot stress how important it is for parent to do this work.  If not explored and dealt with, this leads to many problems down the road.  Here is an example:

Some time ago, I was asked by the mother of a 16-year-old to work with him on his confidence. His mother had a history of struggling with self esteem issues and depression.  She wanted so much for her son to be confident and enjoy life.  As a result, she did everything she could to help make this happen.  She bought her son self esteem books, sent him to seminars, shared her own personal stories, and constantly was on him about how he was feeling.  What she did not know is that what she was doing was causing the exact opposite.

The young man was actually very confident and happy.  But, because his mom kept on him so much about his confidence and happiness, he started to wonder if maybe he did have low self esteem or might even be depressed. His mother’s hypersensitivity and subsequent behavior blinded her to the fact that the issue was actually hers, not his.

The bottom line is that parents should find outlets to get in touch with their concerns, worries and fears. I recommend talking with friends and family members, and possibly seek out a therapist or counselor to help work through these feelings. 

As a parent, you owe it to yourself and to your son.

Michael L. Stoller