Teens today seem to be having a difficult time handling disappointment. Maybe it is because they’ve always gotten a participation award for all the sports activities. Maybe it’s because as parents we have bent over backwards trying to make sure that our kids have everything they want or need. Maybe it’s because our kids don’t fully understand the impact of having to “do without” as kids had to deal with several generations ago. Or maybe it’s because that instead of having true relationships, we have technology.
Regardless of the reason, the news is shouting at us to find a way to stop the tragedies we are reading about in today’s headlines. About a year ago I volunteered to serve two back to back weekends for funerals of local teens who had committed suicide. And several years ago right before Christmas I was interviewed on a podcast regarding the number of teen suicides that had occurred in the Atlanta area. As the host asked what we as parents could do to help prevent these tragedies in our own homes, my response was simple: “Teach our kids to handle disappointment in their lives.”
I know as a parent, that is sometimes easier said than done. I also know that this isn’t going to solve all the teen suicides we see today.
Depending on our child’s bent and their emotional maturity, some can handle disappointment more than others. But regardless of whether our child is even aware of their propensity toward self-harm or potentially suicide or a number of other harmful choices such as drugs or alcohol, it is important for us as parents to learn to connect on a deeper level with our kids. We need to be asking the right questions even when our kids seem to be taking their disappointment in stride.
I saw how my own daughter struggled with disappointment. When she felt left out or encountered situations where she felt “less than”, I would ask questions. Typically instead of opening up, she would shut down and pretend that it didn’t bother her; especially if she had been shunned by a close friend. As a mom I was thinking, “wow, she is a strong person to not be emotionally upset about this situation”. So we’d talk briefly and I’d let it go. “After all, it’s not bothering her so I guess she is fine.”
Definitely the wrong way to deal with it on my part.
It took me years to learn that it was her way of handling the disappointment. She would close herself off and try not to feel. What she really needed was time to process and then have someone walk through the emotional pain with her. I finally discovered that I needed to coax her to talk several days after the event and teach her to process and put words to her feelings.
Most of the suicides I’m reading about all have the similar stories–kids that appear to be on a good trajectory–what most would consider good homes, great academic potential, or top performing athletes. Many seem to be happy and well adjusted. They’ve had lots of success in their lives but have most likely had little disappointment. When the disappointment came, it came like an avalanche. It was a monumental blow to their self-worth and they didn’t know how to process it.
Regardless of the situation, part of our job as parents is to help our kids learn to accept disappointment as part of life. After all, as adults, we’ve come to learn that disappointment happens almost daily. As we mature we learn to figure out that regardless of the situation we can deal with it. Teaching our kids to process that emotional pain takes time and effort on our part and we can soften the blow to our kid’s self-respect. Our job is to normalize their feelings and teach them that tomorrow will be a better day, and they can get through the pain they are currently feeling. It will also bring a depth to your relationship as you walk side by side them.
Teaching our kids to process their disappointment also gives us opportunity to share our faith and dependence on God.
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Here are some practical ways to help our teens and tweens deal with disappointment.
- Ask what happened in your kid’s day. Be sure to ask in a way that elicits more than a grunt or “fine”. Ask specific questions and be sure to read body language.
- If your teen seems grumpy or wants to be alone more, state facts. “I notice you seem to be more quiet and upset about something. Want to talk about it?”
- If your teen says “no”, respect his decision for now, but be sure to re-engage and ask again. Sometimes kids can process in a short period of time and other kids will take days. Keep asking (but not too frequently), until they are ready to talk.
- If you teen’s mood changes to be more upbeat and positive, go back and address the reason about the earlier grumpiness. “You seem to be more upbeat today. I’m assuming whatever you were grumpy about yesterday has worked itself out? One of the things that is really important as we become adults is that we share the things we’ve had to deal with so we can make sure we’ve processed all the way through it with another person’s perspective. I won’t pass judgment and I’d really like to listen to what happened. I promise no condemnation or criticism. I just want you to know that I’m always here for you. Why don’t we go get a coffee today after school?”
- Don’t be afraid to solicit help from a more seasoned mom or from a professional counselor.
Part of my ministry is talking to moms on a daily basis about the struggles they are having with their tweens, teens, and 20-somethings. It is amazing what happens when we walk beside each other and can come to see our parenting difficulties from a different perspective. I’ve also spent a great deal of time with teens talking through their disappointments.
Dare you to join the moms just like you who are brave enough to deepen their relationship with their kids. With All Due Respect will invite you into the wisdom of many moms who have encountered similar parenting struggles without judgment. Learn what it takes to be intentionally engaged with your kids while deepening your relationship with God.
“Let go…and Let God”,