Don’t you hate the feeling that comes with trying as hard as you can to improve a situation, but you just feel like you’re running in place? No matter what you do, it doesn’t seem like you can make it better. It’s completely disheartening and frustrating. Sometimes it shakes you to the core. Oftentimes it bleeds into other areas of your life despite your best intentions. This is called discouragement.
Teenagers get this feeling pretty frequently, and usually don’t quite have the maturity to know how to handle it. Mom or Dad, you might notice your son or daughter becoming withdrawn and irritable. You might observe them making negative comments and giving up much more easily than they used to. They may resist activities they used to do in a heartbeat. You’re left feeling perplexed as you wonder what has your teen feeling so down.
When adolescents don’t know how to lift themselves above a situation, it’s up to your parental instincts to help. This can be tricky because your child may not necessarily share what has them feeling frustrated. If it’s a certain class, they might fear telling you because they don’t want you to get upset with them. If it’s that they can’t find a job, they may interpret your suggestions as criticisms. If your teen is discouraged about making friends, they may find it impossible to implement things that are supposed to help.
My whole job consists of motivating discouraged teens and parents to make changes. A lot of times the discouragement is about the parent/teen relationship, but it’s often about other things as well. These things have ranged from addiction to anxiety to depression to trauma (rape, abuse, etc.) to other issues specific to each individual client. One thing consistent across the board in helping a discouraged adolescent begin to make things better is to instill hope.
When you instill hope into your child it cannot be based on false premises. You cannot tell your child they will become valedictorian of their high school if they failed during freshman year; that is literally not possible. You CAN tell them they can still make it to a college they will truly enjoy and feel proud of if they decide to. You cannot tell your daughter who has never done gymnastics, dance or anything else requiring grace and flexibility that she will make captain of the cheer team this year. However, you CAN help her believe she is capable of participating in a sport, having camaraderie, getting into shape and feeling proud of it (especially no-cut sports like cross country). It’s extremely important to help your teen set realistic expectations for him or herself, and be open to changing the picture of what they want just a little bit. Help your teen realize it’s okay if they can’t be the most popular student in their middle school, and that having a solid group of friends makes lifelong joyful memories.
Fighting through discouragement with your adolescent is a challenge. This is especially true when you feel as discouraged as they do. I’ve sat with a lot of parents who have had to change their own expectations before they were able to help their teen instead of harp on their teen. It’s not easy, but the rewards last a lifetime. We’re all built a certain way, which means we have an individual purpose- starting to discover that purpose provides hope, which is the opposite of discouragement.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT