Creating Emotionally Responsible Exhanges with Your Teen
As your daughter becomes a teen, her ability to understand adult concerns and relate with you on a variety of subjects increases. While talking about your experiences of the world can be a very fulfilling way to bond with your daughter, her new ability to relate to you may cause you to falsely conclude that she can or wants to become your emotional support. In other words, there is a very fine but important line between sharing the impact of your daughter’s behaviors on you and asking her to caretake your feelings.
If you’re unsure whether or not you are asking your teen to provide you with emotional support, see if you recognize your own behavior in the three sample dialogues below. If you do, then study the solution dialogues that follow for tips on how to change the dynamics of the conversation.
Here are five good reasons to get support for your feelings from another adult instead of your teen:
1. A teen’s ability to be emotionally available and responsible is highly variable. As a result, they are likely to disappoint you.
2. Your teen really just wants be your kid–not your friend. Teens whose parents ask them to take care of their emotions report feeling confused about what their role is in the family.
3. Your teen is going through a developmental stage of differentiation in which they are seeking to understand their individual identity, one that is separate from family. Putting your child in the role of being your caretaker can inhibit this natural developmental stage.
4. Your teen is most likely overwhelmed with managing their own feelings. They have a lot less experience in life to practice complex emotional management and are therefore inherently bad at it. Thus, they need you to support and teach them how to handle their feelings, not the other way around.
5. You are likely to get much better advice and empathy from a friend about dating, intimate relationships, parenting challenges, etc., given that your child has likely not had experience in any of these areas.
1. Disappointed Mom
Mom: Gina! (crying) I cannot believe you let me down again. Do you know how devastating it is for me to try to help you out and all I get is attitude. I don’t have anything else but you! I have given my whole life to you and look at me now. If you want me to be happy, you’d better start making different decisions.
Here is the same discussion without mom asking for sympathy from her daughter. Instead, she is teaching her daughter emotional responsibility:
Mom: Gina, I am really upset again that you have not followed through on what I have asked you to do. I have been waiting around for hours when I could have been doing other things. This is really disappointing and it hurts my feelings. I am wondering what is going on with you that makes you forget your word to me.
Gina: Uh! I know I know I know! I just blew it again. But Casey got mad at me again and isn’t talking to me and… ( Mom listens, then helps daughter come up with solutions to current friend drama.)
Mom: Gina, I can understand why you got distracted but you need to be able to deal with these things and keep your word to me. You have a responsibility to our relationship as well and I don’t want it to be destroyed in the wake of your other problems.
2. Unappreciated Mom
Gina: Mom! I cannot stand when you talk to me that way!
Mom: I try so hard and you just never appreciate me! (Mom disengages from the conversation and begins to cry instead of engaging her daughter’s request for finding a new way of talking together.)
Here is the same conversation without mom seeming to need emotional support. Instead, she is teaching her daughter other ways of communicating needs and preferences:
Gina: Mom I cannot stand when you talk to me that way!
Mom: What way?
Gina: When you say…you know…you go, G-I-N-A…like I am a little girl and I’m not!
Mom: Oh? I see. I didn’t realize I did that. But now that you mention it, I do like saying your name like that. But, I get it that it sounds like you’re ten years old. Oh. I am missing you as a little girl. How can I say your name now?
Gina: “Gina.” Just “Gina” works for me, mom.
Mom: Oh. Okay I got it. So if there is something else in the future you need me to know, can you ask me to talk about it without yelling at me first? And I will keep trying to listen.
3. Mom’s Dating
Mom: I’m not sure Jeff, the new guy I’m dating is right for me. What do you think?
Here is the same exchange without mom fishing for dating feedback. Instead, she is teaching her daughter to take an initiative with her independent time:
Mom: I am going on another date with Jeff tonight. What would you like to do tonight? Stay here or go to a friend’s?
(Your teen does not want to give you dating advice, except to maybe tell you not to date at all. But that’s another article topic, altogether.)
Being a parent of a teen can be very challenging. If you have found that you struggle with seeking support from your teen, there is no shame in it: this is hard for many parents. I encourage you to instead reach out to other parents of teens, talk with friends, or find a support group for parents of teens. When you are properly supported, you will be able to support your daughter in turn.