Photo by Ashley Byrd on Unsplash

When teens cry for help

A shocking incident happened in Singapore recently involving two teens: a 16 year old boy randomly killed a 13 year old boy at school with an axe. It’s the first time such a serious thing has ever happened in school here. A lot of people have been left reeling from the event.

I really feel for both boys’ families and the classmates – it’s sad when young people break like this. This incident made me think a lot about when teens cry for help. As parents, what are the signs to look out for? What do we need to be mindful of?

Sophie Hon, a MAP Method practitioner and life coach, wrote this article in response to what happened. As an experienced practitioner who works with many moms and kids, she brings up a lot of good points.

Based on my own experiences and that of some clients’, I also felt compelled to write down a few thoughts.

We could have blind spots

Sophie’s article refers to a TED Talk by Sue Klebold, mother of one of the students responsible for the Columbine shooting. Sue did another interview here. Her story is a sobering reminder that, no matter how much we love our children, we may not see the signs of trouble correctly or soon enough.

The early warning signs sure didn’t look obvious in my kids, either. Against the usual backdrop of teenage upsets, they were easily brushed off as “being hormonal”, “being a teenager”, “going through a phase”, “quirky personality”.

Notice the masking, deflecting, stonewalling

Many parents have heard the words “just leave me alone!” from their teenagers at some point. That’s their go-to line for stonewalling. Teens also learn how to camouflage, deflect and mask so they don’t get left out, singled out, attract unwanted attention, be accepted and/or earn approval. Sometimes they use that on adults (parents or teachers), too.

It’s easy to let the masking, deflecting, and stonewalling go because we understand and respect our teens’ need for space and privacy. At the same time, we need to be prepared to push past those defenses and have an open, honest conversation (without confrontation) if we have a hunch there’s something more going on.

Desensitization or misinterpretation happens

When more obvious signs like meltdowns and self-harming appeared, scarily we got used to them because they became part of our new normal. It’s not like we didn’t seek help, but unfortunately we missed the forest for the trees… Maybe even the psychologist did, too. It took a really huge (as in serious) event to see everything in a greater context.

Problems are better than silence

It’s said that in families where one sibling is going through lots of difficulties (like ours), all the attention gets focused on the problem child and the easy one gets overlooked. But if the easy one has been silently suffering with their own problems and keeps it hidden, it’s much harder to find out what’s going on. This teen could “suddenly” snap if he or she doesn’t get the attention that’s needed.

So, in a perverse way, having the problem out in the open is better than keeping quiet and “checked out”.

Build trust

When a teen is unwilling to be open and talk, it could be due to a lack of trust or safety. These are hard words to hear, but if a breakdown of trust or safety has occurred, the parents have a hand in it, too. Are we acting out our frustrations with our teen’s attitudes and problem behaviors? Is our urge to discipline or correct stronger than the desire to empathize? Have we inadvertently created a culture in the family that is causing disconnect? If so, switch the focus to connecting and rebuild trust – authentically, honestly, and with humility.

Consider a change of scenery

With each teen, for different reasons, we changed environments in a big way – taking a year off, changing schools. It did feel like a gamble to pull out in the middle of mainstream schooling and go on an alternate path. But when weighing the pros and cons of remaining in the current environment for the sake of staying “on track”, we felt that taking that gamble would benefit their emotional and mental wellbeing in the long run, even if it meant taking a detour (it did).

Energy work can help, but not by itself

With the tools I have, you might wonder, couldn’t energy work have turned things around? Well, not by itself. We needed the help of other approaches like psychotherapy, family therapy and medication. Then the energy work played a supporting role by clearing unwanted energy out of the way, stabilizing our teens, moving things along. Similarly for others, too.

We need support, too

Raising teens is particularly tough when they’re going through emotional and mental dysfunction. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope! But if we’re unable to be there for our kids because of our own emotional triggers, that’s a sign we need help. It’s important to allow ourselves to be taken care of too, so we’re in better shape to support our troubled children.

What are your thoughts? Have you had similar challenges with your teenagers? I would really appreciate hearing what your experience was like, if you’re willing to share. Please feel free to connect with me here.

May you and your loved ones always be supported on the journey of healing and growth. xo