The Teen in Trouble: When to Defend and When to Support
Our teenagers rarely need us to defend them, but they always need us to support them. Parents sometimes assume that supporting their child means defending them. I would assert that defending your child may be a short-term remedy, but it does not provide the sustainable and effective support that teenagers both crave and require in order to become accountable adults. What situations require defense and how to circumvent our desires to stand in between our child and a difficult situation?
When to defend your teen:
- Home invasion or something dramatic where your child’s safety is at stake!
- They have been wronged in a way that is significant and outrageous. For example, your teenager and you are sitting in a movie theater after paying for your tickets, and an usher comes over and says that your child snuck in and the police are being called.
When to support your teenager:
- All day, every day.
- Any time, every time.
What does support looks like:
1. In most instances, just be present, no action required.
2. When an action is appropriate, it is often a small, and sometimes thankless one, like driving, preparing a favorite snack during a stressful time, filming their events, and keeping track of appointments.
3. Your child can be held accountable and take responsibility for something they did wrong, and you can support them by standing beside them as they are willing to take on both accountability and responsibility. For example, if your teenager has a parking ticket they need to take care of, by all means supply the envelope and maybe even write the check, as long as they give you the cash to cover it.
4. Encourage your child as they investigate and approach what feels like an injustice. For example, if your child feels like they were given a grade they do not deserve, and they choose to go and speak to the teacher, you can simply say “I hope that goes well”, or “what do you plan to say?”
5. Let them know you love them no matter what, even when they are in a heap of trouble academically, socially, or even legally.
6. Model accountability and responsibility for your child by avoiding blaming others for your own predicaments, and making every effort to not allow them to blame others for their predicaments.
7. Give your teenager credit when they are truthful at a time when it might be easier to lie. That is the kind of support that reinforces integrity and builds character. Caught red-handed, many kids do what I call the” panic lie”. If your child instead has truth as their default, applaud them, and then let them deal with the consequences of their actions.
8. Allow them to explore new interests, try on different personas, and make mistakes.
9. Listen without judgment or unsolicited advice. Remember, they are venting and need an ear more than a response.
Keep in mind that making excuses for your child can feel supportive in the moment as you help them avoid consequences that may have impact on their success at school. However, as parents we need to remember that we are hoping to raise responsible adults who do not make excuses for themselves or blame others for their missteps. As painful as those consequences may be for you or your child, it is important they learn to navigate them, rebound, and learn both resilience and accountability as a result. You can best support your child by allowing this process to occur and being present as they face the ups and downs on their journey to independence.