One of the toughest parts of parenting is seeing our kids struggle, especially when it comes to seeing them being bullied. It tugs at our heart strings because we feel powerless to fix it and we so want to fix it. We want to end their suffering and see them happy and smiling again. So what do you do when you notice something off about your teen? What do you do when you find out they’ve been acting withdrawn, quiet, and wanting to hide because there’s a bully out there that’s been targeting them?
You know, there’s this myth circulating out there, I’m convinced it’s part of the adversary’s plan actually to have us all believe that we should be happy all the time. So when our child (no matter what age) isn’t happy then something is terribly wrong. When WE aren’t happy, something is wrong and we go to town trying to fix it. Fix it quick! We have to get back to happy! But this isn’t true.
We’re supposed to experience negativity. Our teens are supposed to experience negativity. Please don’t misunderstand or jump to conclusions here – I’m not condoning bullying behaviors. THIS is NOT part of Heavenly Father’s plan. It is not right nor is it acceptable behavior but it IS a part of our mortal journey and we can learn from it.
In the TEEN SPOT the topic for the past few days has been on bullying. I’ve given them just a few things to ponder on and resources to get help but what about us? What do we do when we see our teen cry, hide, and struggle through this experience?
Today I want to offer you FOUR things that you can do when you find yourself in this position. The first, and most important is to resist the urge to FIX IT. This is tough. I know, I’m a Mom too. Since they were newborns – before even- we’ve been thinking, caring, loving, and serving our kids. We try to eat right, we fix them healthy meals and snacks. When they’re struggling with getting dressed as toddlers, we fix it by helping them. When they’re fighting with their siblings or friends we come along and fix it. We fix it, we fix it, we fix it and we like to fix it because we feel needed. We feel like we’re serving them. We fix it because we want to offer our love.
So now, in this moment that things really should be fixed, you’re asking me to NOT fix it?! Yes…as difficult as it is. The last thing teens want is for us to fix it. When they come and talk to us or maybe when you finally pry some information out of them, the first thing you’re going to want to do is offer advice – to fix it. Breathe. Don’t say anything for 5 seconds – 5 seconds like we used to count as kids – one hippopotamus, two hippopotamus…
Which brings us to the SECOND thing you CAN do. LISTEN. Just listen. Ask a question to keep them talking. It’s more than likely they’re so used to saying something and then waiting because they know you’re going to respond with fix it tendencies. But what if, in this crucial moment, you just sat next to them, looking at them in love, and just listened. “Why don’t you tell me more…” Then listen.
It’s amazing what happens when we listen to others. William Ury gave an amazing TED Talk about the power of listening (link at the bottom) – he said,
“ (Listening) helps us connect with the other human being. It helps us build rapport. It builds trust. It shows we care. After all, everybody wants to be heard…Listening may be the cheapest concession we can make…It costs us nothing, and it brings huge benefits. Listening may be the golden key that opens the door to human relationships…We listen not just for what’s being said, but for what’s not being said. We listen not just to the words, but to what’s behind the words. We listen for the underlying emotions, and feelings, the underlying needs, what that person really needs or wants…because one of the biggest gifts we can give anyone is the gift of being heard.”
So listen. Genuinely listen. It takes practice, it’s not easy at first but it’s so important.
The THIRD thing you can do is to VALIDATE. I know, this goes totally against what I teach to my adults. When we can learn to validate ourselves we’re not at the mercy or need of another human being to make us feel a certain way. So to my adults I teach them to learn to love and validate themselves but to my teens, while I do start teaching these concepts, they’re just not there yet and they DO need validation – most especially and most importantly from their parents. Think about your own need for validation from your parents – maybe your mom or dad. You wanted to do something do prove to them that you’re good, worthy, or capable. You needed them to believe in you, to validate you.
Your teens need validation from you too. In this case it’s not so much of a “I believe in you” – which I do feel is ALWAYS appropriate but it’s more of a “I know you’re hurting. I hear you when you tell me…” – validate what their feeling – PLEASE don’t tell them they shouldn’t feel a certain way, “Oh honey, don’t listen to those guys – don’t feel sad! You’re amazing!” type of thing – no…validate THEIR feelings whether or not you agree with them.
“Understand the power of listening and validating kids. Parents,…I want you to be able to ask your kids, ‘Am I a good listener?’ They may look at you like you’re crazy. They’ll probably laugh because they understand that sometimes we don’t listen very well. But here’s what you can do, the next time a situation arises, go sit down with your kid, duct-tape your mouth if you need to…please don’t interject. Sit, listen to them, put your cell phones down, put your work away, push dinner off for a couple of hours, order out, whatever you need to do. But LISTEN to what they say and when they’re done, VALIDATE their feelings. You’re not validating their behaviors or their actions. All you’re validating is just their feelings.” -Tina Meier
The last thing I’ll offer today is to be able and willing to feel what comes up for you. This is really challenging because you’re going to feel a lot of things. You’re going to feel sad that your teen has to experience this. You’ll probably feel negativity to the bully, to the school who isn’t doing what you think they should about it, to whatever/whomever is involved. You might even feel some guilt, shame as a parent. “If only I did……better this wouldn’t have happened.” There’s a lot of feelings. Your teen is having a lot of feelings. What they need most from you right now is an open space, a safe space, a loving space. You need to be able to process and allow your emotions and NOT REACT to them so that you can be those things for them.
Allowing and processing is cleansing. It’s being able to sit with those negative feelings and not push them away. A feeling is just a vibration in your body. Feel where it’s at, experience what it really feels like. The more you notice and allow it to be there the FASTER it will leave. The feelings intensify and stay longer when we resist them and when we’re in that state of resisting them we’re not able to be our best selves for our teen who so desperately needs you right now.
If I’m reacting to the negativity I feel towards the bully – “They shouldn’t have said/done that! That’s wrong! My child…” and I’m thinking all these thoughts then I’m just adding more negativity and I’m wanting to act – to fix – to do something …most likely NOT out of love. I’m not listening to my teen because I’m too engaged in my own dialogue. But when I think thoughts like, “Their behavior is inappropriate. I’m sorry my teen has to go through this. I wonder what she’s feeling right now.” – thoughts like these – open you up to inquiry. You’re not condoning what the bully did. You’re validating your own feelings and the sorrow that your child is experiencing and that you can empathize with them. But you’re also WONDERING – your curious – open – to your teen and creating a safe place for them to learn and grow.
This is part of the 50% opposition in all things. It’s not fun. It doesn’t feel good. It’s NOT SUPPOSED to. But you CAN grow through this. You CAN develop a deeper connection with your teen through this. You CAN learn to listen, to validate, to not fix but to just be present while your teen figures out how to navigate this experience.
I’m not telling you NOT to offer suggestions either. But instead of coming from a “This is what we’re gonna do” perspective, it’s from a, “Hey, do you want me to offer some thoughts?” view. One takes away their responsibility and power. They’re getting older. They need to learn how to respond to opposition and difficult people/situations. Even when you’re in a bind you don’t want someone else coming in and TELLING you what to do but suggestions are nice when you ask for them. This is why you call a friend, family member and share your frustrations. You don’t want them to fix it for you. You want to be HEARD, listened to. You want them to VALIDATE your feelings – as irrational as they may be sometimes, and you want to know that you can lean on someone. Someone who is going to create that safe, open space for you to learn and just be yourself. You can give this to your teens. They need you.
You got this.
It’s tough but you can do tough.
Need more help? Can’t quite get there? Set up a MINI (20 minutes) coaching session with me and get REAL tools and help to steer you in the direction YOU WANT to go in. Life coaching is no joke. Reach out – Book that HERE
If your teen needs immediate help: check out STOPBULLYING.gov
As always, write in with questions or comments. I want to hear from you!
LINK TO THE TED TALK from William Ury – The Power of Listening