Parenting Teens

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Any parent whose child has crossed into their teen years knows how difficult parenting teens can be. Teens can be moody, unpredictable and defiant. They can ping pong between being exquisitely sensitive in one moment, and cold and withdrawn in the next. Meanwhile, they’re beginning to occupy the bodies of adults — and to take on adult responsibilities — while making decisions with a brain that is, in many ways, still child-like. 

It’s enough to test any parent, and it’s no surprise that many counseling and parenting coaching clients need a little support with parenting teens. And it’s important that they get it — the wrinkles that can develop in relationships between teens and their parents can last well into adulthood, without the right care. 

If you’re the parent of a teen, this article is for you. I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guest is Kanya D, a marriage and family therapist and parenting coach here at Growing Self. As the mother of two teens herself, she truly understands this challenge from all sides, and has some excellent parenting advice you’re going to want to hear. You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Parenting Teens

The brain undergoes major changes in our teenage years, and these changes often lead to surprising shifts in a teen’s personality. Even the sweetest, most mild-mannered kids can suddenly grow a little snarky and obstinate when they become teens. 

All of this rapid change can be crazy-making for parents. If your teen seems like a different person overnight, know that many parents have been where you are. Fortunately for all of us, the radical growth of our teen years doesn’t last forever. 

Parenting Today’s Teens

In the midst of the pandemic, there’s been a dramatic increase in teens suffering mental health crises. The pressures to be a high academic achiever and get into the best schools haven’t eased up, even as the fun activities that once gave teens an emotional release valve have fallen away. 

Two years of a pandemic seems like an eternity for all of us, but for teens, this period represents an enormous chunk of their lives. Coupled with ongoing racial injustice, school shootings, and climate collapse, a lot of teens feel serious stress and anxiety about the future. 

Today’s teens need more emotional support from their parents and the people who love them as they come of age through multiple crises.  

How Teens Grow

Teens mature physically much faster than they mature cognitively. The human brain takes about 25 years to finish developing, which means your teens will probably have graduated from college before they’re mentally adults. 

This can really frustrate parents, when a person who’s taller than they are is still making decisions that seem child-like. Always keep your child’s true maturity level in mind, rather than expecting them to act as adult as they’re beginning to look. 

Parent-Teen Relationships

Kids are often afraid to come to their parents about serious issues, because they’re worried about getting in trouble or being forbidden from hanging out with certain friends. This can leave teens navigating really difficult things all by themselves. 

When your teen comes to you with something serious, try to put the consequences aside and put the focus on your relationship with them. Of course teens need limits and boundaries from their parents, but it’s even more important that they always know they can come to their parents for support and guidance when something is wrong. 

What Teens Need Most From Their Parents

What teens really need from their parents is someone who can teach them how to care for themselves. This aspect of parenting starts long before their teen years, and continues after they leave your home. 

Teach them good self-care habits, how to communicate, how to set healthy boundaries, and how to function as an independent adult in the world. This builds their confidence and sets them up for a happy, healthy life. 

Communication Between Parents and Teens

Keeping your attachment to your teen secure is the most important thing you can do as a parent. 

Teenages occasionally push their parents away, and it can be hurtful. They may withdraw, shut down, and refuse to share with you at times. Just like a little kid will run away from their parent on the playground and eventually come rushing back, your teen will return, as long as you remain an open, emotionally safe person for them to talk to. The back and forth may seem totally unpredictable, and that’s because they’re splitting between the worlds of a child and an adult. 

When they do want connection and support from you, welcome them back with open arms. 

Keeping Teens Safe

Any teen’s behavior can be erratic and strange, but there are a few signs of serious trouble to look out for. 

If your child withdraws from friendships and family relationships, dramatically changes their eating habits, is listening to a lot of sad music, and appears down a lot of the time, they may be depressed and possibly even at risk of suicide. 

If you’re worried about them, don’t accept “I’m fine” as an answer. Trust your gut and get them help. 

Parenting Modern Teens

The most important part of parenting teens is maintaining a safe, open relationship with your child. Yes, it’s even more important than controlling their behavior or making sure they’re successful in school.  

Put your relationship with your teen first, and the rest will come much more easily. 

Parenting Teens Podcast Spotlights

[04:38] The Pressure of Modern Teen

  • Well-meaning parents say and do hurtful things to their children without realizing it.
  • The suicide rate of teens has gone in up the past two years, and the rate for teenage girls is significantly higher than for boys.
  • Hardworking teens are pressured to achieve unrealistic academic success.

[10:19] Parenting Today’s Teens

  • Teenagers have almost unlimited access to information today compared to before.
  • Adolescents nowadays need emotional support and safety to address their overwhelming anxiety.

[16:59] Parenting Out of Control Teens

  • Teenagers tend to think with their emotions and feelings.
  • Parents are encouraged to ask their children open-ended questions and listen and respond without judgment.
  • When adolescents vent about their dangerous participation, listen to them with an open mind.

[27:53] What Teens Need Most From Their Parents

  • Parents need to model their kids from a young age by teaching them essential habits and skills.
  • Taking accountability for your actions and apologizing to your children will reduce the risks of early woundings.
  • Children can sometimes dismiss their parents for space. But when they come back, accept them with open arms.

[39:08] Figuring Out the Communication Between Parents and Teens

  • Setting boundaries is crucial between teens and parents.
  • Find common ground when communicating with teens.
  • Keep the line of communication open for your children.

About Kanya

Kanya is a therapist and coach with more than 20 years of experience in helping couples develop deeply loving and satisfying relationships, helping parents and families thrive, and helping individuals reclaim their happiness.

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Parenting Teens

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Free, Expert Advice — For You.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

On today’s episode of The Love, Happiness and Success podcast, we are talking about a very special kind of love, and that is the love that happens in a healthy family. One of the most important relationships any of us have is that between parents and kids. If you have been a parent or even a child, as a matter of fact, you’ll know that this kind of relationship has ups and downs, and it really evolves and changes over time. 

The parent-child relationship, as you’re possibly aware, can get very difficult during the teen years. If that is managed well, it sets an incredibly strong healthy foundation for the adult-child relationship that you have as a parent or a child going forward. 

But if you’re not careful, things that happen during the teen years can take a toll on everybody involved — kids, parents, a marriage. So it is super important that we’re talking about this topic. I’ve actually heard from a number of you, listeners, that this is something you’d really like to have more conversation around and more guidance around. 

For that reason, on today’s show, I have invited my colleague, Kanya, who is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with more than 20 years of experience in not just helping couples and individuals have healthy relationships, but she does a lot of work as a parenting coach and has a special area of expertise around parenting adolescents. 

I wanted her to join us today to talk about the trials and tribulations of parenting teens, and give you some, hopefully, strategic and actionable ideas that can help you create as positive of an experience as possible for yourself, your kid, and your whole family. 

Kanya, thank you for joining me today.

Kanya: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here.

Lisa: Well, let’s just jump right into our topic. I mean, you are a Marriage and Family Therapist — you’ve been doing this for 20 years. Maybe, we could begin with just talking about some of the pain points that you’ve seen — both from the parent side of the equation, like trying to do the right thing by kids and having a positive relationship with a teen that you’re trying to help and support. Also, the other side of that. You know what I mean? Some of the things that you’ve seen from kiddos around how they’re experiencing that relationship and the kinds of things that could help them as they evolve through this period. I know that’s a giant, far-ranging question with tentacles and flourishes. But let’s just start there.

Kanya: So I think that being a teenager is hard for teens, but it’s also hard for parents and family members. There’s a big change that occurs in a teenager’s brain that often makes them — sometimes, we don’t recognize them because they become so different than the child or tween that they were. 

Lisa: Oh, my goodness! I personally have a 13-year-old, and he has always been the sweetest like Hufflepuff — just kid. Starting about the time he was in his — getting towards the old side of 12. He turned into this — I was like, “Who are you?” Like snarky and weird. It’s such a shift to it. It took me by surprise.

Kanya: It takes a lot of parents by surprise. It can be frustrating and challenging, and also really painful, especially if you had a relationship with your child where they talk to you about things and they let you in, and then all of a sudden, it’s like a brick wall, and they can be mean. They can be really mean sometimes. That’s very, very painful for parents and confusing — and a lot of parents are like, “Did I do something wrong? What can I do to change it?” 

It’s a very complicated time, and I don’t think that we get a lot of information about how to manage that time. 

Lisa: From the teenager side too. I mean, I have spoken with so many individuals over the years as a therapist about things they experienced with their parents during those years when they were teens. That was so hurtful and invalidating. It took a lot of time and intention to work through in therapy because that was hurtful.

Kanya: I think sometimes really well-meaning parents say and do things that are hurtful without realizing it. When our child is in pain or suffering in some way, of course, we want to do something to make it stop for them. Sometimes, parents will minimize what they’re going through, or try to rationalize it or say things like, “Well, it could be worse.” To a teenager, they’re going to shut down when they hear that, and they’re going to say, “This isn’t a safe place for me to go and to talk.”

The parents aren’t doing this on purpose. They just haven’t — I think it’s really hard for parents to understand what kids are actually facing today. It’s really terrifying to find out what these kids are dealing with. A lot of parents want to be involved, but don’t necessarily know how to ask open-ended questions, don’t know how to receive information when their child says like they are a friend of theirs is going through X — which is, for the parents sometimes, it’s just so shocking like, “What do you mean?” 

This happens to us all the time. It can be overwhelming to know how to deal with it — how to deal with it in a positive way. A lot of times teenagers, they’ll just shut down so quickly that even if a parent realizes they made a misstep, they don’t get the opportunity to repair with their teenager.

Lisa: When that emotional safety is broken, and you’re saying it’s fragile, it’s vulnerable, it’s really easily broken, and it’s hard. It’s hard to read them. I’m wondering if we can maybe just talk a little bit more about the reality for teens. I mean, I’m going to put you on the spot and ask how old you are. But I am a card-carrying Gen X-er. Back in my day — left on our own, setting fires in the woods, learning how to smoke cigarettes — like that kind of thing. 

I mean, pros and cons — it wasn’t all wholesome and good. But what we do know — I actually just saw an article very recently that there’s this mental health crisis among adolescents, and they’re a totally different set of stressors and struggles that we analog teenagers may not have experienced in the same way. I’m wondering if you could just talk a little bit about that. Can you set the stage — the context?

Kanya: Sure. I will say that just — I think it was yesterday, the surgeon general came out with a report saying that —- that might be what you’re referring to — the crisis that was there prior to COVID has been exacerbated. One example was, visits to the emergency room for suicide attempts in teenage girls have gone up 50% in two years. 50% — 4% boys, 50% in teen girls. Obviously, there’s a lot happening even before this. There was a lot happening. 

Prior to COVID, what I saw kids dealing with — variety of things. But the first thing that comes to mind is the academic pressure of going to a good school, getting good grades, having a job, and doing activities. The expectation that we were raising these kids to be super-achievers at a very young age doing college-level work in 10th grade. It was just never enough, and these kids were just so frazzled by the time they got to college. 

Their expectations were really unrealistic. They would get depressed if they got like a 92 on a test because that wasn’t good enough, and they weren’t going to get into the best college. That’s ongoing, and that was a lot worse during COVID because then, they’re at home in their room learning, expected to live up to the same standards as when they were in the classroom. 

I think that was a huge disservice that we did to our young people to say, “Everything’s different, but nothing should change.” Because that really wasn’t realistic.

Lisa: Just out of curiosity, do you find that the pressure around achievement, and there’s like outward signs of achievement — so like grades and AP classes, and all the things. Is that coming from parents? Or are those like kind of cultural forces and messages that teens are absorbing osmotically? Maybe, they’re not hearing that specifically from their parents. What are your thoughts about that?

Kanya: Right. There’s a lot of parents who don’t push and yet their kids are pushing themselves. I think a lot of that is social pressure and what they’re seeing online. If you take a kid who’s dedicated and a hard worker, and you have a teacher say, “You guys are really going to have a hard time if…” That teacher is not talking to that child in the classroom. That teacher is talking to the child who doesn’t take school seriously. But the kid who takes school seriously thinks it’s for them, and they get even harder on themselves. 

Usually, they’ve had success, academic success, at a young age and it becomes pretty of their identity. So it’s hard for them to let that go and to say, “I need to have a little more balance in my life.” They’re afraid — they’re afraid of the future, they’re afraid of failing. They’re afraid. 

I have kids who are in some of the best schools in the state with great grades saying, “I’m never going to get into any college.” They’re not seeing things clearly, unfortunately.

Lisa: Well, and I think, too, that there’s anxiety probably on both sides of that equation. It’s certainly kind of cultural and societal messages. But I know, as a parent, I think I do carry a certain level of anxiety about my kid’s future because it seems like the world is getting harder and more competitive. With the robots are coming for us all, thinking about, “How are my kids going to be successful in this new economy?” 

I think that there is that desire to help them like be okay in a world that’s changing so quickly, and is foreign in some ways. I just wanted us to have empathy for parents on the other side of that, too, is that even though it may manifest in pressuring things that — I think there’s just anxiety everywhere.

Kanya: There’s anxiety everywhere. I recently heard a young person say, “It feels like the world’s going crazy. It’s like they’re dealing with COVID, which is taking up a larger and larger percentage of their life. They’re seeing a lot of issues with race in our country, political strife, global warming… It’s just — school shootings. I mean, when I was young, I didn’t go to school every day, wondering if that was the day that somebody was going to bring a gun to school. 

I think sometimes they have a hard time thinking of the future because they’re trying to figure out, “How do I get through the next week?” Because there’s a lot of scary things in the world right now. I don’t really have the bandwidth to do what I need to do right now and think about the future.

Lisa: Absolutely. So pressures around achievement, pressure and anxiety around just like fundamentally, “Am I safe in the world?” Either through violence or racism or weather catastrophes — I mean, all these things. Also, I’m imagining social media is something that’s really changed the landscape so much in the last 10 years.

Kanya: Absolutely. So their access to information is completely different. But also their access to one another is completely different. When I was growing, I had this one phone in our house, and it was in a kitchen, and then at this wall. Then, I think when I was 16, I got one in my room. I was like — big, right? 

But everybody knew you were on the phone and who you were talking to — you had very limited privacy. Now, kids are communicating with each other constantly like they’re on Facebook, house party with people they don’t even really know — different kids from different cultures. There’s some benefit to that, but then there’s also the ability to interact with kids who are not kind and who belittle you for having the wrong haircut and being fat. That is the universal insult for girls. Regardless of their sizes, you’re fat. 

They know how scary it is for girls to be told that they’re fat. It’s like, the information is just coming, coming, coming at them all the time. Even though I pay attention to things on social media, I don’t catch everything. The whole thing with Snapchat, it disappears, right? So our kids — because they have access to smartphones, they’re being exposed to pornography in grade school. 

Trying to figure that out, oftentimes not telling their parents because they’re afraid they’re going to get in trouble. They’re trying to make sense of that, and the pictures that the boys and girls send to one another when they’re in middle school, in high school — it’s just it’s pretty shocking what’s happening. I know.

Lisa: So this like super hyper-sexualization, and a lot of focus on superficial appearances or behaviors. I’m so disappointed about the fat-shaming thing that you referenced. I think in my kind of idealistic — we’re moving on from that, but no. Then, also combined with these messages around — achievement and unrealistic expectations of the self in a context of a world that is not really trustworthy or safe.

Kanya: It’s not safe, and kids who no longer have that buffer of time to get to adolescence before they get exposed to things that are scary — scary for adults to think about. Now, they’re getting exposed to it at 10 years old and having to make sense of it which is very difficult and it’s very scary. Lots of anxiety in kids these days — understandably so. 

Lisa: I think what I’m taking from this is that in the context of this reality that you’re describing — that teens, tweens need more emotional support and emotional safety with, ideally, their parents or people that love them. Maybe, struggling with big feelings and confusing situations that make it harder to get that support. Is that…? 

Kanya: I think you’re right on with that, especially if they’re — we know in children and teens, their behavior is impacted by stress. If they’re really stressed out, they tend to misbehave. Then, parents want to correct the behavior without sitting back and going, “Hey, wait a second. What’s stressing them out so much? I need to talk to them. I really need them to talk to me and just listen.” Help them get it off their chest and for parents to learn how to compartmentalize their own reactions to what they’re being told. 

Because as parents, we want to be like, “What did they say? What did they do? Did you tell that the principal?” Like, “Mom, it happens every day.” And to them, it’s like, “No, you don’t understand this. This is the norm. We’re just dealing with this all the time.” 

So learning to ask those open-ended questions like, “Wow, how do you feel about that? What was that like for you when that happened?” They see someone getting bullied, “What was that like for you? How did people react? Looking back, is there anything that you could have done differently, or somebody else could have done differently?” Starting to really just open the door for them to let it out. There’s a lot in there. There’s a lot for kids today. 

Lisa: Well, I think there’s also another component that — I think you brought up in previous conversations that I’ll bring into this conversation — which is the cognitive differences between teenagers and adults. I think that, particularly, if you’re looking at a kid who’s taller than you are  — and in some ways, looks mature, it can be easy for adults to forget that there are really profound differences. Can you say more about that? 

Kanya: Sure. So the human brain takes 25 years to fully develop, which is astounding. They’re going to be finished college before the brain is fully developed. It’s amazing, right? 

Lisa: That explains a lot. 

Kanya: So adults are thinking with the prefrontal cortex — the rational part of the brain, the part that lets them think about long-term consequences, A plus B equals C. Teenagers, they’re thinking with the amygdala which is the emotional center in the brain. It regulates the fight or flight. Sometimes, we look at teenagers, and we’re like, “What are they thinking?” And the reality is they’re not — they’re feeling. They’re going off of emotions. 

So one thing a parent can do is come in and just slowly calm them down, and help them think through different options. Because that forces them to become more thoughtful about consequences versus just talking to their friends who are all also driven by their emotions and adrenaline. You have to slow the conversation down. If they say like they did something dangerous, don’t yell at them for doing something dangerous. Talk about it. “Oh, that’s kind of interesting. I wouldn’t expect you to do that. What do you think led to that decision?” It could be — I mean, there’s a lot of vaping. I know that there are kids vaping in the classroom when the teacher is writing on the board. They’re sleeping in the classroom. I’m like, “What are you talking about?” I hear this from a lot of kids. 

They’re just so — they’re being exposed to it. It’s in the bathroom, it’s everywhere at school. So like, “How do you work through — if you’re really clear you don’t want to do it, but then slowly, your friends start doing it, how do you face that peer pressure? How do you say ‘no’? What if they tease you? What if this…?” And kind of walk them through the different scenarios so they can figure out, “How do I stay strong in who I am and what I want to do even when somebody is giving me a hard time?”

Lisa: But I hear all of that, and I’m also reflecting on how challenging I think it feels, sometimes, to even have a very basic conversation. There are days, sometimes, that I asked my son, I’m like, “How was school?” And he’s like, “Stop talking to me. You’re always asking me questions.” And it’s like, “Oh, okay. I’ll just… Bye.” But it’s like there’s so many walls — like even just creating a space where a teenager would be that open and authentic with a parent. It probably takes some work to even create that. Then, of course, our contact with that is to not freak out and react when they do start talking to you.

Kanya: Exactly. In the way, you want to pretend to be completely disinterested in whatever it is you’re talking about. Because if we’re really interested, they’re like, “Too much. Like back off. This is annoying.” I’ll be like, “What did you learn in school today?” “Nothing.” Like, “You had a class? Film or anything?” You’re a little disinterested, but you look for the openings when they might say things like, “I’m so bad.” Or, “There’s so many kids at school who are depressed.” Just like, “Oh, really?” 

Keep doing whatever it is you’re doing, but start asking some of those open-ended questions like, “I heard that that was happening to you.” I would always ask “To you or your friends?” because that gives them an out. They can talk about it without saying they’re the ones feeling that way. So I always say, “Have you or your friends ever felt that way? Do you guys ever feel sad or hopeless?” It’s frightening what they’re dealing with. 

So looking for the signs. Then, sometimes I’ll tell parents — like have that conversation at dinner, “Oh, I was listening to NPR today, and they said this really interesting story about X, Y and Z.” You guys start having that conversation, and then it gives the kids the opportunity to chime in, like, “Oh, they do that at my school all the time.” “Oh, really? What’s that like?” 

So you’re not going directly to them to find out what’s happening in their world, but you’re just talking about this issue about sexuality, or gender or drugs or sex, and you’re just having this more open conversation about it that they can then see like, “Oh, well. Mum and dad are talking about this. They’re not getting heated and upset about it. Maybe I could…” Then, they’ll start to test the waters and see if they can talk about it.

Lisa: One of the things you’re also saying is to have those opportunities for conversation — like sitting together at the dinner table, or for doing kinds of basic day-to-day activities where it is possible to have interactions. Because I think even some families get so busy — those moments of everybody’s in the car together, or we’re going on a walk, or having dinner — those things can fall by the wayside. I think particularly, as people piling on activities and things and friends. So you’re saying that those small, quiet moments become increasingly important.

Kanya: Finding those times because that I think initially with COVID — because we were home for a few months. All of a sudden families were like, “Oh, my God. We’re having game nights. We’re eating dinner together.” They returned to that, and they really liked it. 

So as the world opens up again, I think it’s important to say like, “A couple nights a week, we’re going to have dinner together. Or, “On Sundays is Family Day, and we’re going to go for a hike, or we’re going to watch a movie.” We’re going to continue to make sure we have that time together so that there’s fun time, but then there’s also the opportunity to talk about things.

Lisa: We call that forced family fun. 

Kanya: There you go. 

Lisa: Get in the car. No, that’s awesome. But the context is going and doing an activity. But really, the intention is creating those moments where people can connect on a deeper level on a voluntary basis. 

Kanya: Talk about things. And it’s important that if a kid starts to open up that they don’t get any trouble for whatever it is they’re sharing. 

Lisa: Say more about that. That’s easy to do, and also fairly toxic — not dynamic. Say more.

Kanya: I think a lot of kids are frightened of talking to their parents because they’re afraid they will get in trouble for something. They’re afraid that they won’t be able to be friends with somebody because their friend is participating in a dangerous activity of some kind. So they don’t tell. If they come to you — I do these things with my kids, and I also talk to my coaching clients about it. You can let your kids know, and you can start this at a really young age, “I’m going to have my parent hat on, or my friend hat on. If you need to talk to me like I’m your friend, you just need to say, ‘Dad, mom. I need you to have your friend hat on.’” 

Then, they have total immunity. Whatever comes out of their mouth, there’s no punishment, there’s no consequence for it. Of course, you’re going to help them figure out solutions to the problem — with their input, of course. 

But you can’t — if they come to you and say, I was at a party, and I drank, and I did X, Y, and Z, and it’s like, “You’re punished.” Well, they’re never going to come to you again. They’re not going to call you from the next party when they’re too drunk to drive. They’re not going to call you when they’re in a dangerous situation to come and get them. 

Of course, we have the parent, and we have to have limits and boundaries for them. But if they’re taking the risk to open up and say, “Hey, this happened, and it scared me and I don’t know what to do.” You have to put the consequences to the side and make the relationship the most important thing at that point. 

I’ve worked with kids for years, and I’ll say like, “Oh, you talk to your mom about that?” “Oh, no. I would get so much trouble and they would kill me.” So they’re navigating really big things all by themselves. Usually, when parents understand that, they’re more than willing to work with that. Because the alternative is — kids are facing serious consequences without any support from an adult, and that’s just not okay.

Lisa: Just the way you phrase that a moment ago, that your child is in a dangerous situation whether or not you like it, and they are all alone. 

Kanya: All alone. 

Lisa: unless they have the safety of your relationship. 

Kanya: Like if they’re your kids at a party, and they have to get home by midnight, and the only person driving them is drunk, do you want them to get into that car? Never. They need to know like, “I don’t want you to be doing those things, but if you’re in a situation where you need me, you just need to call me and I will come and get you and there won’t be a consequence.” 

But now that doesn’t mean as a parent, you’re not more tuned in at that point. Of course, you’re going to have conversations about the drinking part with them. I think in a way, we don’t do a good job of preparing kids for drinking as adults. It’s just like, “Don’t do it.” Then, you’re 21, and you somehow know how to do it.

Lisa: Or 18 and leave for college.

Kanya: Exactly. That’s a whole other subject. But let them know, “If you’re in danger, or if you’re on a date and they’re not treating you well,  just call me. Go into the bathroom and call us. We’ll come get you right away.” If something’s not right where you are, they need to know that you will come and help them. It’s really, really important. 

I think of — I had a very similar growing up as you. We just kind of figured it out for ourselves. But there were times I did really dangerous things and I’m really lucky. I could have been killed, and I wasn’t, thank God. I was too afraid to tell my parents. I was too afraid to call them and say, “Can you come and get me?” And I don’t want my kids or anybody’s kids to feel like that. 

Lisa: I get that. I’m so glad that we’re talking about that so that it’s just — particularly when it comes to safety issues — so just move away from any ideas around punishment. Because I think that it’s easy for parents to talk themselves into, “I’m setting limits and boundaries.” And that kind of thing. 

The image that’s coming up for me right now, I was exposed to  — it was kind of a graphic of a funnel, really. When you have a teeny tiny little toddler who really does need to have structure and boundaries and “now it’s time for a nap”, and all of the rules and guidelines. 

That widens, and widens, and widens, and widens so by adolescence — kids are operating fairly independently and kind of self-policing in some ways because I think we’ve both also heard about some other statistics or worked with some other families that have had very kind of structured, controlled home environments where there’s lots of rules and regs and boundaries. 

Then, a child leaves that environment to go off to college or something, and absolutely falls apart or is not able to function without somebody else telling them what to do — setting external limits on behavior. Can you say more about what you’ve seen with that — like the parents’ number one job is that self-sufficiency and helping their kids make good choices without being told?

Kanya: I like the funnel image because it doesn’t happen overnight. Like it’s not like, “Oh, I’m 18 now. I can make all my decisions by myself.” It doesn’t work that way. It has to happen incrementally, even from a young age. 

Even like little guys who are toddlers and they spill something, it’s like, “Well, let’s help you clean it up.” You model to them, and you teach them how to care for themselves and the importance of why we need to get a good night’s sleep so that by the time they’re teenagers, they’re not up to four o’clock in the morning every night on their phones or playing their games. 

It’s really important because there are kids that go to college that don’t know how to do laundry, and can’t talk to adults because they’ve never talked to a teacher. Their parents had all those conversations. I’ve had some kids who were really shy who never ordered a meal in a restaurant before. Then, they go to college, and they’re completely unprepared for just advocating for themselves and asking for things. It’s really, really sad because it affects their self-esteem so much. 

They don’t understand like, “Oh, I just didn’t learn these skills yet”. They think there’s something wrong with them, which is really sad. Then, they’re far away from home, and their parents aren’t there, and they’re not asking for help. You want to be there for your kids throughout the course of their lives — it doesn’t stop at one age that they’re suddenly independent. They’re going to have big decisions to make throughout the course of their lives. 

When you develop that relationship with them from a young age, they will always come to you to talk about those things. In high school, it might be about grades and sex, and those kinds of things, and drugs and alcohol. But then, it’s like, “Oh, well. What grad school do I go to? Should I buy a house? Am I prepared for this? I think my spouse and I are thinking about having a family — what was it like for you?” 

They include you in those conversations about big things and they have a community — like that village that we raise our kids in, it doesn’t stop when they’re 18 or 21. That’s a village that just keeps growing. It’s really, really important.

Lisa: But that as they grow into adults, they trust you in their relationship, and that you can continue to support them in the role of like a trusted mentor really, or just somebody to bounce ideas off of even though they’re in control of their lives. That’s really the hope to maintain that connection. 

Kanya: We don’t need our parents in the same way, but it’s really nice to talk to them about these things — them and other adults who were important to us over the course of our lives. 

Lisa: I’m wondering if we can look at this from the other angle too. I know that you and I have both, over the years, worked with so many adult clients who — over the course of therapy — really need to talk about things that happened or didn’t happen in the relationship that they had with their parents. 

Oftentimes, the adolescent teenage years are when regrettable things happened in that relationship that they’re still working through. What are some of the things that you have noticed — adult clients working through that are kind of those wounds from adolescence, particularly in their relationship with their parents? I know parents aren’t responsible for everything, but to be able to use that as a guidance for things to do or not do in that parenting relationship helps to avoid those consequences.

Kanya: Sure. I think being willing is the big one — being willing to apologize to your child if you’ve hurt their feelings. I think in our culture, we’re so weird about — we think, “Well, if I apologize, it means I was wrong.” But really, I think of it as if I’ve hurt someone’s feelings, or I’ve done something that they misunderstood, I want to apologize to them because I want to repair the relationship. 

I think it’s important for parents when they say something, their child opens up, and they don’t handle it well, and there’s a wounding that occurs, they want to to be able to go to them and say, “I’m so sorry that I did that.” And explain why you said that, “I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t realize how would affect you. It was short-sighted of me. I was thinking about what my parents would have said to me when I was worried.” And explain the context to them, but also work to repair the relationship. 

Because your kids want to see that — they know you don’t have to be perfect, but when you can be humble, and apologize and ask for their forgiveness, that will open up the relationship tremendously. 

I was just talking to a young man who’s going through a tough time, and his parents have never apologized to him for anything. It’s not that they’re bad parents, they just don’t understand the value of admitting when they’ve made a mistake. It’s really important that we all do that. We want to — whatever you’re teaching your child, it’s far better to model it to them than just tell them to do it. 

Modeling is so much more powerful for that teenager like, “Oh, it’s probably hard for my mom to apologize to me like that. But that was really cool that she did that. My friend’s mum won’t do that.” It changes the relationship a lot. I think for parents who did have that core wounding from their parents and adolescence, when their child starts to pull away and put up the walls, it’s particularly painful for them. 

Because they probably decided to parent in a very different way, so that their child wouldn’t feel that. But now they feel rejected once again. So that would be a good time for them to do some coaching or some therapy to work through that so they’re not continuing to feel wounded for something that, developmentally is just — it doesn’t have anything to do with them, and it certainly doesn’t have to do with love their children feel for them. 

More than anything, I think our kids want us to hear them and understand them even if they don’t know how to make that happen, and we don’t know about how to make that happen — that’s really what they want. But it can be really, really difficult to do.

Lisa: But I love that message around modeling emotional intelligence and really just intimacy, and authenticity, and just to say something as simple as, “You know what, I didn’t handle that as well as I would have liked to.” Or, “I was inflamed by my own anxiety in that moment, and realized that I kind of shut you down.” To be able to take ownership of that can be tremendously healing. 

But also, I’m hearing you say to be conscious of the dynamics of that intergenerational influence really that unless we’re doing a real conscious manual override, we tend to parent the same way that our parents parented us — and many of us who have tried to make intentional differences in that. Even though we sort of feel like we’re doing things differently, there’s old stuff that can come up in that relationship that’s really worth processing and bringing into conscious awareness. Because I think if you don’t, that’s when it can create problems. People get triggered — they become emotional, or reactive, or angry about things, stressed about things, and they don’t really know why. So I love it that you’re bringing up that point that as parents, it’s really important to continue doing your own personal growth work around that in order to be a healthy partner in a relationship with your kids. 

Kanya: I think it’s really important. Like I was raised — my mom was much more authoritarian. And then I became a therapist, and I saw the value in a really different kind of parenting. But my kids became teenagers, and they became oppositional, like somewhat oppositional. I was like, I started to respond the way my mom would have responded to me — more like, “You will do X, Y, and Z.” 

That doesn’t work very well with most kids because they live in a world where it’s like, “Well, this is all a democracy. We all have say in everything.” When you’re like, “You will do X, Y, and Z.” It doesn’t work well and it really affects the attachment that you’ve worked so hard to build with them. 

We know like when your attachment with your kids is solid, they’re highly cooperative. They want to have a good relationship with you. So there are times when you know, things come out of their mouth that I have to let go, have to work with myself to let go of, to not take it personally. When they come back 20 minutes later acting like nothing happened, and they’re like, “Hey, Mama. What’s up?” I had to work with the part of me that wants to be mad back. 

You’d be like, “You hurt my feelings. I can’t be nice right now.” But just like when kids are little, like three and four years old, they have that safe space around their parents. They kind of go off at the park and they explore, and then they run back and they grab on to their mom or dad’s legs. 

Teenagers do that too. Like they run off and they come back. But when they run off, they can push us away and be a little bit mean. When they come back, it’s important for us to just have the open arms and to let them know that, “This is safe. You don’t have to be perfect. I’m going to love you no matter what.”

Lisa: What a great reminder. And thank you too for sharing about your own experience. Just as you were talking, I was thinking about how vital it is for all of us to be doing that work because I think that it’s so easy to not fully appreciate the culture of our family of origin and how the way that your parents shaped you. 

Just to share, my mom was probably the total opposite end of the spectrum. She was so permissive and like, “Whatever.” There wasn’t a lot of boundaries or structure in that way, which had its own consequences in terms of trust and having to figure some things out around that. I think as a parent like trying to find that balance between being accepting and supporting, and kind of flexible, but also the times that doesn’t work either when I need to step up and be more firm or have more like… 

I just wanted to put that out there that it’s so deeply personal — the work that we all have to do to figure out our styles, and things that informed us, and what parts of it are working and aren’t working in our relationships with our children, and also how that evolves over time. Because as kids change, we need to change. 

I think that’s the hard part — I don’t know about you, Kanya, but for me, it’s like, “Finally, I have this figured out.” And then, it’s like totally changed. I need to figure it out all over again.

Kanya: You have to be very — I think the boundaries are really important. I didn’t realize this, but my mom kept her word. If she said, “This is the rule.” That was going to be the rule. Of course, there were situations where she would be flexible. But it’s interesting because my daughter’s like, “If you tell me something I know, I can’t talk you out of it.” I appreciate that I got that from my mom that when I make a decision about something like, “No, this is the decision.”

But I do think we have to be flexible. Even within the same family, children have different personalities, and they respond differently. There’s some kids when you just have — I found this interesting with children — they think of yelling very differently than we do. Yelling to an adult is loud volume, yelling to a child as intensity. You can have a quiet voice, but be intense, and they’re like, “You’re yelling at me!” And some kids, you could yell at them every day, and they’re like, “Whatever. It doesn’t bother.” 

But other kids — any kind of sign of disappointment is very wounding to them. So it is hard to be a parent and to follow the cues from the children, and figure it out. Definitely not for the faint of heart — this parenting.

Lisa: But it’s necessary. I mean, what’s your other alternative if you’re not doing that work? Well, I know we don’t have a ton of time left, but I do have just a couple more specific questions for you. You mentioned something that I thought was so insightful and important — which is there are different personalities in the home, not just of children and you, but also with partners. 

In my experience too, oftentimes, married couples or partnered couples can run into a new area of growth in their relationship because sometimes parenting differences become a real point of friction in a relationship and in a family system. This is a total stereotype and it’s different in many families, but it’s often centered around one partner being more permissive than the other, who really wants kind of more of that law and order experience. 

The parents start fighting with each other around how to handle situations with teens. I know that this is a huge topic, and worth spending many therapy sessions on — so we’re not going to give all the answers in the next two minutes of a podcast. But do you have any sort of general guidance for a couple listening to this, if that’s happening around, how this should be handled — arguments? Where do they even start? 

I mean, is it just to book an appointment with a family therapist or parenting coach? Or are there books that you would advise or parenting models?

Kanya: There’s a lot of different books on parenting models. But I think finding common ground is probably where you want to start. I do think it’s really important not to have those conversations in front of your kids. Like sidebar it, “You know what, mummy and daddy are going to talk. We’ll get back to you.” And have that conversation yourself. 

Be willing to look at different models. If you’re really not able to resolve it yourself, then I would definitely talk to a coach about this so you guys could figure out what’s driving your desire to have it your way versus what’s really best for your child because there are some things that don’t work well for a child. They could be actually not just ineffective, but harmful to self-esteem into the relationship with the parents. 

I think attachment-based tells us that the attachment to the child is the most important thing, the relationship is the most important thing. When you have that, you have a high degree of cooperation and understanding in the family. They’re willing to listen to the rules.

Lisa: Even that right there, I think for many people who grew up in a family where that wasn’t explicitly done — they literally do not know that their relationship, the quality of the relationship is the most important thing. I’ve had so many family therapy sessions where it’s really that psychoeducation around this piece because many people get very fixated on rules and what should or shouldn’t be happening — just that, relational component is not part of the conversation. 

I’m glad we’re talking about it today. Very lastly, you brought up a point earlier in our conversation that was shocking and just so awful, and also so real that this newer research — I think the statistic was a 50% increase in suicidality of girls, specifically, much more so than boys, which has gone up a little bit, but not nearly as much. Briefly, can you talk a little bit about why the difference between boys and girls around that? Then also, if you have any suspicion that that might be going on with your kid, what do you do to keep them safe?

Lisa: Sure. I think that the pressures for girls and boys are different. I think the reaction to those pressures are different. I think that there’s been a lot of things in the media and on TV shows, and whatnot about suicides that girls are more tuned into which is scary. I think that there’s just so many different things that go into that that makes them more susceptible to that.

I do think we have expectations of females that are much higher across the board. You have to be a good student, you have to have a job, you have to have activities — you just have to excel in everything and you have to look good while you do it. It’s just kind of off the wall what’s happening. But if you think that your child is suffering, you just need to have conversations with them and have them talk with a therapist, and get support and be willing to listen to things even if it’s hard to hear. 

Because they might say things like, “Part of why I’m sad is because of something you guys are doing or because of something that’s happening in our family.” And that’s hard to hear, but you want to hear those things and realize from their perspective that’s really real.

Lisa: Just for parents to have this on their radar, if there aren’t open lines of communication, what are some of the warning signs that you would look for —  just observations of the kid that this kid is really sliding towards a psychiatric crisis, and we need to keep them safe and get them help ASAP. What are just some of the red flags that you would advise a parent to watch out for?

Kanya: Isolation. So we’re used to teenagers ignoring their families and being in the room. But if they stop talking to their friends, and stop wanting to do those things, that’s really big. Changes in eating, changes in sleep — you can see in a child’s face, sometimes, their sadness is very pervasive. 

Changes in eating or in weight and sleep, changes in academics — if they’re just suddenly not interested in things anymore. If they’re listening to sad music a lot or watching sad movies a lot. Having conversations with them, and then getting them into therapy and seeing what level of care is appropriate for them.

Lisa: That is often the first step of that clinical mental health treatment is really that assessment so you would have a mental health professional kind of talking to them and doing an evaluation to figure out, “Okay, does this kid need outpatient mental health treatment? Or do we need to take them to the emergency room?”

Kanya: Exactly. So working with your primary care physician and doing blood work, and those kinds of things. Because sometimes like vitamin D deficiencies — there are symptoms are the same as depression. So just making sure that their blood work is good — there’s not something happening there that can’t be helped. Then also, with the primary care doctor, and also the mental health provider. It’s really important to get a team together basically for that child.

Lisa: Definitely. Okay, that’s great advice for any parent. You’re a general practitioner, you’re pediatrician is often plugged in and has referrals, and can do a medical assessment, as well as a psychiatric assessment. 

I know that in many medical clinics, they’re moving towards a model where there’s a psychologist or a therapist in the building who could even come in and do some screening. But I think my big takeaway here, Kanya, is to not minimize it, not chalk it up to teenage weirdo-ness, but just to get it — to take some action, even if it’s just making an appointment with your kid’s pediatrician.

Kanya: Yeah, action. I still hear parents say, “Well, they’re just doing that for attention.” Well, then give them attention. They do need your attention if that’s what’s happening. They need your attention to help figure this out. They can’t do this alone. 

So taking action, and I know right now it’s really hard to find a mental health provider. But don’t give up. Keep looking, keep looking, keep talking. Don’t let it fester. And trust your gut because if your child’s like, “No, no. I’m fine.” And your gut is telling you something else, trust your gut.

Lisa: Great advice and I love this. I’m glad that we talked just some more about the concrete specific things there at the end. But my big takeaway is just really, above all else, to be focusing on having a really positive relationship with your kid that’s built on authenticity, and just like emotionally safe communication.

Kanya: Very, very important. Absolutely.

Lisa: Is there anything else that you’d like to share before we glide to a halt here?

Kanya: I think that just knowing that our kids are exposed probably a thousand times more than we were exposed to as a teenager starts to put into perspective everything they’re trying to figure out. So being willing to have those open conversations is very, very important. 

Lisa: Without freaking out.

Kanya: Without freaking out. When you’re done the conversation, you go into the next room and freak out. 

Lisa: Scream into the pillow. 

Kanya: “Oh, my God!” But not with that. You need to have a spouse that you could do that with or a friend that you could do that with, and be like, “Oh, my God. I cannot believe what I just heard.” And to be able to download yourself because it’s a lot. It’s a lot for you to contain for your child. 

Lisa: Thank you so much for this conversation today.

Kanya: Absolutely. I love being here. This is really fun. I hope it helps people.

Lisa: I think it will. 

Kanya: Alright, thanks so much.

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