I heard this story recently from an adult remembering her teenage years…
“I was in 6th grade and my Mom let me host my first big birthday party. I invited twelve other girls for a spend the night party. I am an extrovert so to have this type of activity in my home was like going to Disney World for me. I carefully welcomed every girl to my home when they arrived and quickly got wrapped up in the energy of the moment. At one point in the evening I walked away from the group for a moment only to return to one of the most painful experiences of my life. Just before I entered the room I could hear that the girls had gathered together in a circle to make fun of me. They were talking about how ugly I was and that they were not having any fun at my party. The rejection wrapped around me like a tight-fitting coat. I responded in anger and confronted the girls which only led to more drama and conflict. My mother got involved and instead of saving the day, she told me that I would never have another party like that again if that is how it would turn out. I have never recovered from that, and I still have trouble trusting women in friendships today.”
The saddest part of that story is not that it is a rare occurrence that only happened once, but rather that it happens every day. It might have happened to you when you were a teenager. Even worse, it might have happened to your teenager last week. The new buzzword is “BULLYING”, but the reality is that teenagers destroying each other with their words is as old as dirt.
How do you respond as a parent when your teenager has been wounded by a friend?
There is no way to take the pain away, but here are 3 thoughts on how to help your teenager process pain:
1. DON’T SPEAK: The natural urge is to explain away the pain. You think that if you can say something like, “hurting people, hurt people” or give them some kind of inspirational quote it would help it all make sense. The truth is that pain never makes sense right away. One of the reasons you struggle to find words to comfort your teenager is because in so many cases words are not what is needed for comfort. Hold them. Cry with them. Validate their hurt. Let them know that the pain they feel is real and it is OK to be sad about it. Sit shoulder to shoulder quietly and let your presence speak more than your words. You don’t have to say anything, you can just be there.
2. HELP THEM FEEL THEIR FEELINGS: An incredibly important life skill that many adults struggle with is acknowledging our feelings and knowing what to do with them. Please understand that this is the foundation of most addictions and destructive behavior. We feel pain and we have no idea what to do with it, so we reach out for anything that makes the pain go away even if just for a moment. To teach and encourage your teenager how to get their feelings out in a healthy way will not just help in the moment, but it will pave a way for them to be free of the temporary “fixes” that only cause more pain. (alcohol, eating, drugs, unhealthy relationships, etc.) Keep a blank journal in your room for moments like this. After the initial expression of emotion slide the journal to them and tell them to write their feelings in there. Tell them they can say whatever they want in the journal and you will not read it. Help them understand if they write out their feelings it will help begin to get them out in a healthy way. Secondly, teach them the healthy places to release emotion like exercise, counseling, coffee with a friend, painting, poetry, writing music, playing sports, or whatever they enjoy doing that can be a physical expression of the emotional turmoil inside.
3. SPEAK TRUTH: First, you cry it out with them. Then you help them find a healthy release of their emotion. When you see them coming back to life a little bit, it will be time to sit down and process what happen from a rational place. You can coach them on the reality of friendship, the mechanics of dealing with conflict, and why hurting people feel the need to hurt other people. This is the time to go over what to do if this happens again.
I wish you can wave a magic wand and take away your teenager’s pain, but that is not possible. What is even more magical is what can happen in their life as an adult if they learn how to process their pain in a healthy way, and you can do something about that!
I WOULD LOVE SOME REAL LIFE EXAMPLES OF HOW YOU HELP YOUR TEENAGER THROUGH PAINFUL EXPERIENCES? PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT AND TELL ME YOUR STORY.