By Michelle Ruschman
In the next installation of What Teens Want Us to Know, our kids were asked, “How do you wish people took care of you on a bad day?”
It can be so easy to think our kids don’t want us to be involved in helping them feel better, especially if we’re used to being kept at a distance, and sometimes that’s true. More than one teen did say, “I just want to be left alone.”
Others, however, offered purpose in their time of wanting to be alone, and it often had to do with how busy their schedules are. One teen said it would be helpful just to have time to relax and take a break. When there’s no time to slow down, it can compound problems if there isn’t time to assess what changes can be made to alleviate stress. Are we allowing students to participate in making their schedules? Do we allow them to do less when their mental health is in jeopardy?
When students feel depleted, they also “just need peace and quiet to recuperate.” Many students shared that they wanted to talk but when they talked needed to be on their timeline, not ours.
“I don’t ever want to talk about it right away. Sit with me, give me some ice cream, and put on a movie. I’ll open up eventually. I’ve just got to process it all first.”
Not everyone needs physical touch to be comforted but for some, a simple hug makes a greater impact than talking, especially when it’s hard to articulate all the raw emotions clamoring for attention. “Just cuddle me and spend time with me.” When parents recognize their teen is going through a tough time and do something about it, that child knows there’s relief in the hard day.
“Be there, hold me, and tell me it’s going to be okay.”
Of course, sometimes a bad day starts in the home and it’s us they need relief from.
“Just please don’t yell at me. If you handle the situation calmly and want to talk to me about it, I promise I’ll openly communicate with you.”
Unfortunately, a lot of kids are feeling isolated from the people they need comfort from the most and don’t get the chance to process a hard situation. “I don’t usually have people around me any day so I don’t really care if nobody is around me on a bad day.” Are there opportunities we can be more deliberate about being present? Maybe a ride in the car, while you’re getting ready to start or end the day, or at a coffee shop? We can get so caught up in our schedules that we forget to ask simple, but critical questions. Forgetting to do so can be perceived as indifference.
“I wish they cared and said something like, ‘How are you feeling?”
Another agreed: “Check on me every once in a while and then listen.”
A lot of kids know what they need on a bad day and it can get pretty specific!
“I just want to watch Friends with my mom and eat Publix sushi and cake.”
“A day inside with tea will do the trick. If I’m physically unwell I may need more but it just depends.”
“Make some food and let me be alone.”
It can also be pretty general and open to lots of options.
Some of the teens that were getting ready to leave home wanted to feel more equipped to handle hard situations themselves.
“I just want people to take a step back so I can process and not have to be so dependent on others.”
One participant said, “Don’t sugarcoat it.” It’s hard for any of us to see someone we love have to suffer through tough times but many situations have to be confronted realistically so these kids have the tools and experience to handle it while they still have the support of our authority, resources and presence.
What your individual teen needs is not always obvious, but the universal theme is they want to be seen in their struggles, known in their process and whatever the age, feel safe.
“Understand me when I have a bad day, comfort me, and support me.”
“Just stand by me.”
“Some days I just need to be by myself and other days I want to feel protected by being in close proximity to those I love.”
Consider the book, The Five Love Languages of Teenagers by Gary Chapman to know how your teen might uniquely feel loved.
It’s a difficult time being a teen, especially now, when hard days can come from so many different places: home life, academic demands, extracurricular activities, work, relationships, burgeoning feelings, and social media.
Don’t miss those opportunities to offer relief and encouragement to keep going.
“Smile and tell me there’s always tomorrow.”