If everyone’s stress levels are up, how do you survive the day and move forward? “Teens have enough stress right now and parents are making it worse,” says Cary Hamilton of Olympia Therapy. Parents might be saying the same thing in reverse. We’re facing challenging times with uncertain world circumstances and ongoing pandemic concerns. For teens, just growing up can be really hard. Cary wants you to know that both stress relief and hope are within reach. It takes awareness and action.

teen sitting on rock with ocean behind him
Our teens are dealing with unprecedented anxiety and depression. They need their friends, but parents are an essential source of safety and connection. Olympia Therapy can help in these challenging times. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

Olympia Therapy offers a few suggestions. Some may be difficult to hear. You might think it heads you in the wrong direction. However, maybe it’s time to do something different than what you’ve been doing? Maybe it’s time to take a breath and ease your foot off life’s gas pedal. “My teen is not talking to me. I need people to talk to my teen,” is heard by Cary from parents every day. “Parents are really the best person for a teen to talk with,” she adds, “but they don’t know how.” Olympia Therapy wants to encourage and educate parents in teen mental health.

To begin with, it is critical to understand that the teen brain is undergoing rapid development. It’s not an adult brain. The adolescent brain works differently than adults when making decisions and solving problems. A teen’s brain is guided more by the reactive and emotional amygdala and less by the logical, thoughtful frontal cortex. It’s no wonder there are issues. This is the part that scares parents into thinking their kids are going to do something stupid, get into trouble, ruin their lives and be a bad reflection on them. Teens are learning to manage their own health and wellness, in part through dealing with stress and failures.

Teen standing on a rock at the beach
Your teen may be defiant. That’s normal. Learning to be a better listener and not a lecturer is a parental skill to hone. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

“Teens need opportunities to take some risks and experience failures,” advises Cary. It’s all part of growing up. That might mean getting a D on a test. To avoid anxiety and depression, children/teens need to know that when they fail their parents won’t get angry. They need to learn to deal with the disappointments in their lives. Parents tend to forget the silly or stupid things they did when they were young.

It doesn’t mean there are no boundaries, but it does mean youth need to be youthful. In the past two years, our children experienced vastly limited social experiences, which was something their brains need for healthy development. Teens are seeking freedom, which is normal. Oppressive environments fuel rebellion. Teens want to hang out with their friends. “Parents need to understand that teens are supposed to be socializing- a lot ,” explains Cary.

Cary cautions that having your children/teens signed up every day of the week for sports, clubs and other lessons is not the answer to keeping them out of trouble. Being overscheduled is stressful and harmful. Time is needed to unwind from school stress. “Activities like these may involve some of their friends, but it is not really social,” she says. Unfortunately, she has heard too often, “I have to be in a sport/club, or I am grounded.”

group of teens hanging out on a couch
Teens want and need time to socialize with each other that is away from school and strictly organized activities. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

Talk to your tweens and teens about what they can do rather than what they cannot do. For example, it’s alright to go to the party at Jane’s house. Your curfew is midnight. If you are going somewhere else, you need to let me know. If you or a friend need a ride for any reason, call me, I will pick you up. And then, if your child calls you at 11:50 p.m. because she or he or the intended driver is impaired, you pick them up and drive home without complaint or lecture. They know what you think, as well as what is legal or illegal. “Teens need open ears, opportunities to be heard, not lectures,” says Cary.  “Long term punishments don’t work. They had to call you and be in the car with you. That is a consequence.” If you feel talking is needed, talk the following day.

This is a big concept. “Lectures don’t work,” says Cary. Teens know how you feel about drinking or using drugs, you don’t have to remind them continually. For example, imagine you are putting clean laundry on your child’s bed. You see a bag of marijuana on the desk. Pick it up and throw it away. No need to hunt for anything else. Your child will know you found it without you saying a word. The challenge is being willing to be available and open to your child’s wants, needs and concerns. “Reactive behavior does not work, it only harms your relationship” reminds Cary.

Teen at Platform 9 3/4 with a wand and Harry Potter scarf
Teens enjoy having fun, playing games, and hanging out with each other. It’s important for brain health. Photo courtesy: Olympia Therapy

Your teens are young and want to have fun. One scheduled activity per child/teen per week might be more than plenty. Taking a break from these activities is also fine. “Remember, you are not supposed to be your child/teen’s friend,” says Cary. You are the core of safety and security. Youth want to be connected and safe. Learning skills to better communicate on difficult topics, becoming a better listener, and knowing that you are not your child/teen are all helpful pieces to the challenging puzzle of being a parent.

Olympia Therapy is creating a series of webinars called “Who Stole My Child’s Brain? Parenting a Tween/Teen.” Parents can sign up on the website. Lowering stress and decreasing conflict for all family members increases everyone’s well-being.

Olympia Therapy
1534 Bishop Road SW, Tumwater


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