Many of us have grown used to jumping in at the first sign that our child is distressed, to come to the rescue.
“The first thing parents should do is stop trying to fix things,” says David Romano, a psychotherapist and member of Active Minds, an advocacy organization that works to encourage open discussion of mental health on college campuses, to avoid suicides. Romano, who sees a lot of college-bound adolescents, says that what teens need to hear, especially when they’re feeling depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, is that “It’s okay not to feel okay.” The goal is to validate their feelings, but not solve their problems.
When parents notice that their teen is in distress, Dr. Giller suggests responses like:
- “I see you’re really struggling right now.”
- “I’m guessing that this is really hard for you.”
- “I see that thinking about this test tomorrow is making you really anxious.”
And then, let them deal with the problem knowing you’re there as a support net. “That can build a bridge so the teen can start thinking on their own, using their own problem-solving skills, while still feeling listened to and heard by their parent and supported in that way,” says Dr. Giller.