Raising teenagers has always been hard, but raising teenagers in today’s world feels almost impossible at times. The world we live in is not the same as it ever was before. We have everything at our fingertips, and our children are exposed to things we could never have dreamed of a few short years ago. It can feel downright scary at times.
In my work as a Parent Teen Coach, I started noticing a trend lately—the majority of parents are parenting out of fear. I say this as a parent who used to parent out of fear all the time, so I get it. Since we are living in a different world, our fears are all completely valid. Learning to navigate new technology—and the exposure to it—is overwhelming, and of course, it can be so frightening. As parents, we just want to protect our children from the outside world as much as possible. These are our babies, and our parental instinct is to shelter them. However, sometimes that sheltering and protection is taken over by too much fear, and we pass down our own anxieties onto our children, especially during their teenage years when they are trying to push boundaries and figure out who they are.
The teenage years are all about identity. They are when teens are trying to figure out who they are outside of us. Nothing is more scary than our babies attempting to leave the world we created for them. The loss of control, and the fear of what’s out there, can be painful for parents. We keep telling our teens—and ourselves—that we are sheltering them to protect them. That we know what’s best for them, and that they must follow our rules so they stay safe. With our anxiety rate so high, it is easy to project our own anxiety onto our teens and into our relationship with them.
While some of our fears are valid and understandable, parenting out of fear can be damaging to your teenager and to your relationship with him. If you are constantly worried about who he is hanging out with, what he is doing or what he will become, your teen can sense this, and it makes it so much harder for him to feel safe talking to you. Plus, you are passing along the message that this world is scary, which can close him off to so many possibilities in life. This may cause him to mistrust everyone around him—not just the “bad influences”, but the good ones too. It can create trust issues with friends, teachers and anyone else that may come into his life—now and in the future—which will keep him closed off from others.
Think about it from your teenager’s perspective: If he senses—or even knows—that you worry about the things he does and the people he hangs out with, he is not going to want to tell you things that may trigger or set you off. It’s almost sweet, because he loves you, and he also wants to protect you, so he figures “what my parents don’t know won’t hurt them”. In reality, that is actually the most frightening thing we are doing to our teenagers. We are shutting the door on our communication, so that when something is important and needs to be discussed, we won’t know about it.
How do we fix this fear? How can we control it, so that it doesn’t control our relationship with our teenager?
Find a place or an outlet to talk about your fears. Find a group or someone that gets it, and let all your fears out there, so that when your teenager comes home telling you the “awful” thing his friend did, or a place he went to, you can listen without judgement or fear. Learning to respond to your teen in a curious manner, instead of reacting out of fear, is so crucial. Have a little trust in your teenager, and watch how much MORE trustworthy he suddenly becomes. Trusting our teens is hard, but so rewarding. It shows them that we believe in them; it’s the antidote to fear, and it proves to them that we know they are good.
Of course, we will always worry about our children—that’s our job as parents, but when that worry turns into overwhelming fear, we are not in control anymore, and we end up losing in a much bigger way. We are losing the communication with our teenagers that we so badly want, and that they actually crave. Control your fear before it controls you.