How to Respond When Your Teen Is Hurting

By Kevin Leman
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African-American mom comforting her troubled teen daughter
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Is your teen hurting? Instead of lecturing, try guiding your child with these three principles

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  Listen to a broadcast about helping hurting kids with Dr. Kevin Leman.

“I know teens can be mean, but kids at my daughter’s school take it to a whole new level.”

“He hasn’t acted like himself for more than a year — ever since the divorce.”

As a
psychologist, I often hear comments like these from the parents of hurting teens. In today’s
unpredictable world, encountering hurt is as inevitable as paying taxes. It’s even more so for your
teen. Add intense peer pressure, a friend’s betrayal, derogatory comments on social media, and the
cultural rearranging of values and family structure, and it’s no wonder teens face significant
trauma.

No parent likes to see her children in pain. When your teen is hurting, you can
follow these three simple principles to help him work through the hurt and develop strength and
resilience.

Acknowledge the hurt

Ignoring a hurt doesn’t make it disappear. But you can comfort your teen by saying, “I know
you’re hurting. If that happened to me, I’d be hurting, too.” That speaks volumes to your teen about
your support.

A month after Ben committed suicide, his classmates stopped talking about him.
But Ryan, his best friend, continued to struggle with the loss. His parents gave him space to grieve
but occasionally talked about what happened.

“I know you miss Ben,” his father told Ryan one
night. “I lost a friend in high school, and it was hard. If you ever want to talk or cry, I’m here.
Ben was a great friend to you. I miss him, too. When he laughed, you couldn’t help but laugh.
Remember when . . . ?”

In just a few words, Ryan’s dad acknowledged the hurt, connected with
his son’s experience and affirmed that he’d remain by his son’s side. With Dad firmly in his court,
Ryan felt less isolated in his pain. Dad also nudged his son’s heart toward healing by sharing a
happy memory.

Listen without judgment

Emotions are not right or wrong. They’re simply what your hurting teen feels. If you want her to
talk, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing. When Adele’s boyfriend dumped her in a text
message after six months of dating (an eternity in high school), she blurted out, “I hate him! How
could he do this to me?”

Her wise mom didn’t say, “You don’t mean that. You shouldn’t hate
people.” Nor did she exclaim, “He what? Broke up with you? I’m going to call his mother
right now!”

Instead, she sat next to her grieving daughter. Adele vented and cried for two
hours. Being with her mother helped Adele’s heart long term, simply because her mother listened
without judgment.

Strategize how to handle situations

Rather than solving the problem for your teen, encourage him to strategize a path to healing.
Adam, a top striker on his soccer team, and a young woman were targeted with malicious gossip by a
teammate. Adam’s parents knew something was up when their normally even-keeled son went straight to
his room and slammed the door. They waited until he was ready to talk. Four hours later, he
explained how teammates were talking about him having a crude relationship with a girl at his
school.

“I’d be upset, too,” his mom said. “What they said is mean and untrue. What’s your
next move?”

His parents listened and empathized but didn’t solve Adam’s problem. Instead,
they encouraged him to do something about the situation.

The next day, Adam privately asked
his coach if he could speak to the team. “I’m disappointed in you guys,” he told his teammates. “If
you don’t like me or something I’ve done, tell me straight. Don’t start a rumor about me and hurt an
innocent girl. She deserves better than that, and I want you to stop.”

Helping your teen
brainstorm his next move will make him more resilient in the future. On the other hand, rescuing
your teen from emotional hurt weakens him and promotes a victim mentality. Yes, there are times when
he should get an adult involved. But most of the time, his staying in the fight and proactively
problem-solving will help him stand strong in life’s storms.

When your teen has followed
through on his plan, cheer his effort: “What happened to you was really tough. But you were strong
and rose above the situation.”

Your belief in your child means more than you will ever know.

© 2019 by Kevin Leman. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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