Parenting is a roller coaster for all of us. Last night my usually level-headed, even-keeled daughter lost her mind because I asked her not to use her brother’s art supplies. This was incredibly uncharacteristic, but hey, we all have off moments. She was asked to go “take a break” for 30 minutes in her room. I didn’t want to give her a negative consequence because this outburst was so unlike her that I figured she could reset if she could calm down for a bit.
Instead of hearing this as a chance to regroup, she became more angry and started yelling at me. At that point I was forced to inform her she’d have to go to bed even though it was an hour early. She cried, begged, and pleaded for this not to be the case.
As a therapist I was keenly aware of how crucial this moment was in parenting her. If I chose to give in to her sincere apologies and entreaties to roll back her consequence, then I’d teach her she can negotiate with me. If I chose to repeatedly remind her, “This is all your fault,” then I’d be callous and harsh. My husband and I instead chose to hold the line of her consequence while showing her immense compassion. We understand that compassion doesn’t equal soft boundaries. We held her through her tears and talked to her, but still put her to bed. She was still a bit weepy when we kissed her good-night. We reminded her she is deeply loved and tomorrow is a fresh start. However, we did not give in to her desire for a reduced consequence. She felt our love but also understood our line.
I realize this isn’t easy to do. It requires a cool head. You can’t profess some unreasonable consequence in your anger because you’ll almost certainly be required to roll it back later. Or, if you stick to it, you’ll be strongly tempted to put all the responsibility on your teenager in order to justify your own overreaction. Even though my husband and I did it well last night, we are far from perfect in this arena. It’s still a work in progress, and probably always will be.
Here I share a few more thoughts on being both firm and compassionate; I hope it helps:
You know you should break up with him. You know he’s not a good human. You know you’re lonely/unhappy/depressed with him. Why can’t you end it? You ask yourself this on a regular basis. Your friends and family hate the relationship. Sigh. It’s so hard.
If you know you should get out, but you can’t bring yourself to do it, here is some great advice on how to start:
Disclaimer #1: If your bad relationship is violent and/or dangerous in some other way, this advice doesn’t apply to you because you don’t have time to take baby steps. Please take what feels like a drastic step and do whatever is necessary to preserve your safety such as calling the police or contacting a battered women’s shelter.
Disclaimer #2: While I speak in a way that directs this towards females, this advice is for males too.
Ryan…oh Ryan. I so badly wanted you to make me first. I so badly wanted you to dedicate yourself to me the way I was dedicating myself to you. Instead you dangled the carrot just enough to keep me hanging on. I was never in first place. There was always the promise I would be after “just this one more thing,” but I never was. My emotions in reaction built from confusion to anxiety to sadness to desperation to resentment to strength.
Any good therapist could have diagnosed me as depressed or anxious; they would have been wrong. I learned from you being in a relationship that didn’t feed me and didn’t honor God led to the emotional experience of depression and anxiety. I thank you now for this troublesome time in my life because I better understand my clients. The number of lovely young women and young men I meet with who seem depression and anxious, but are feeling that way because of a bad relationship is staggering. They always ask the chicken or the egg question, but it is answered when they cut the anchor. Once they let go of their Ryan, they almost always feel a significant improvement in their mental health.
Fitness and thinness can become an obsession for teen girls. Photo Credit: Marin via freedigitalphotos.net
Are you worried your daughter is overly concerned with her weight? You’re not alone. Studies have shows teenage girls are dissatisfied with their bodies at a rate ranging from 50% to as high as 90%. It’s distressing to think that many adolescents feel preoccupied with wishing they looked different.
There is a big difference between teenagers who do not like their bodies, and those who go a step further. Some may not like what they see, but they still wear swimsuits, eat normally, exercise appropriately, and do not complain about themselves too often. Other girls are regularly trying to diet, and feel very self-conscious in certain attire.
I had a college roommate who was as beautiful and fit as could be. We went to school in Tucson, Arizona and it was dreadfully hot every Fall when we’d start classes. Despite this, I never once saw her wear anything besides pants. When I asked her about this she said it’s because her legs looked fat, and that they would never look as good as they had when she was a ballerina in high school. As a result she created a rule for herself that she was not allowed to show her legs under any circumstances. She ultimately created more and more rules for herself until she had imprisoned herself in the trap of anorexia. It was heartbreaking.
If you’re worried about whether your daughter is too concerned with her weight, she probably is. You wouldn’t be clued into this being a problem if it weren’t. Just in case though, here are some things to watch for:
1. Your daughter has cut out certain types of food such as “carbs.”
2. Your daughter won’t wear a swimsuit in front of anyone.
3. Your daughter talks about food constantly.
4. Your daughter makes comments comparing her body to other girls or women on a regular basis.
5. Your daughter seems to be on a perpetual diet and/or exercise regimen.
6. You daughter has calorie counting and/or fitness tracking apps on her phone.
If you start to see some of these behaviors, it’s time to begin the conversation about whether your teenager is too concerned with her weight. It can quickly bud into an obsession that overtakes her life. Believe me, I know since I struggled with this very obsession from age 15 to age 22. That is seven years of my life I can’t get back. The main focus during those seven years was weight loss and fitness at a time when I should have been having fun with friends and learning a lot in school.
I work with a great number of clients who are unhappy with their appearance. Some of them have gotten all the way into an eating disorder, and others are on the borderline. It’s always helpful to them when A) they realize many, many others feel the same as they do and B) there are so many other facets that make up who a person is. Treating poor body image is not as simple as this, but it’s where you can start as a parent.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
For the teenage Christian there are many challenges. Image Credit: Iamnee and freedigitalphotos.net
Because I am very serious about my Christian faith I tend to get referrals from churches and families seeking a therapist who is also a Christian. I would estimate though that at least half of the teenagers I work with are either of a different faith, or do not practice a religion at all. This is fine in the context of a counseling relationship because compassion, care, understanding and guidance are aspects of counseling that transcend any religious or cultural differences between me and my clients.
Today though I am writing to my clients, both present and future, who are Christian teenagers. I want you to know you are not alone in walking a path that feels incredibly difficult at times. You are called to have the highest level of integrity, and that often means you do not end up in first place. While you have plenty of friends who find ways to cheat on tests or homework assignments, you are asked not to behave this way. Sometimes you probably give in to this temptation as I did several times in high school. Afterwards you might get the grade you were hoping for, but there is no satisfaction in it. You are left with a sense of guilt that can only be remedied by admitting your fault. This is even harder to do- face up when you know you’ve done wrong.
You also are following the moral and emotional guidance of Christ. These days some of your beliefs are culturally unpopular. You might find yourself dealing with some mild form of verbal persecution among your peers. While it is extremely unlikely you have faced physical abuse for your beliefs, if you are strong in them, you have very likely been called a name or two. This happened to me in high school as well. I was called mild things like naive, to completely inappropriate and incorrect names such as bigot, and one time I was even called a neo-Nazi. In no way did I ever have even the slightest inclinations towards white supremacy. This came from the mouth of someone who was angered when I said Christians believe there is one way to Heaven. I did go home and cry though because it felt terrible to be so completely maligned when I was trying to live my life in a very loving way towards others.
Another challenge you will most certainly face is moral dilemmas when you hang out with your non-Christian friends. A great number of them probably party, drink, lie to their parents sometimes, and are sexually active. It is really easy for you to attend youth group and go to church on Sundays, but still partake in these other things. In high school I had one foot in my faith and church, and one foot in the party scene. I justified it by saying I wasn’t the worst one there. I very rarely drank, and instead usually chose to be the designated driver. The problem was that I was lying to my parents about where I was going, and was tempted by other things as well. I was moral shades of gray. I know A LOT of Christian teenagers who do the same thing. It is tough for you to keep your non-Christian friends if you never do the things they like to do. But, this is exactly why it’s so important to understand that you walk a challenging road.
I think the most important thing you can do right now is keep a daily connection with God. Read your bible regularly, pray and stay involved in a small group. If you do these three things the desires of your heart will more likely align with Christ. That makes it a lot easier to follow Him than if you are trying to use your own will-power to be a “good kid,” but you don’t actually know a lot about who Jesus is. Then it becomes a religion of right and wrong instead of a relationship of love.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Hello, I’m Lauren! If you notice your teen struggling, you might be feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated or concerned as a parent. Try to remember, there is hope. I want to help your adolescent feel better. My hope is for them to enjoy their life again. I want them to feel confident they can handle whatever situations arise.