Parenting a teen is not easy, especially if they have mental health issues or are recovering from addiction. Parents are likely to feel hurt, shocked, or angry as a reaction to a teen’s behavior and emotions. Learning to stay cool as a parent, however, can help your teen by diffusing and decreasing their emotions.
Remaining calm, however, is a skill. It is a subtle art and science to learn how to find and maintain calm. Working on this skill will take time, but it is well worth it to help your teen.
Parenting an Adolescent
As parents of an adolescent, you know many challenges exist. Adolescents are at a time in their lives when they are continually shifting. They are exploring the boundaries of their independence yet still developing in many ways including emotionally and mentally.
Adolescents have a higher tendency to engage in risky behavior. Research shows that this is due to an imbalance in the brain. In adolescents, the reward-seeking region and self-regulating region of the brain are on different developmental schedules, often throwing emotional and behavioral processes off balance.
This imbalance means that parenting an adolescent requires continual shifting. Supporting a teen means allowing them to explore independence by helping to support their needs. Part of supporting their needs is helping them learn how to process and communicate their emotions more effectively.
When Parents Keep Their Cool
Keeping calm when your teen is struggling can be challenging. An adolescent who is upset is likely to place blame or push buttons that can cause parents to feel shocked, angry, hurt, disappointed, and more. These emotions on the part of the parent, however, can impact an adolescent. Finding a way to support your teen rather than add to their problems is important. This includes adjusting your reactions to their behaviors. Learning how to manage your own emotions can help you to connect with and support your teen in times of need.
How Adolescents Are Impacted by the Reactions of Their Parents
Parents play an important role in children’s and adolescents’ ability to regulate their emotions. As such, your reaction can help shape whether your teens’ emotions will dissipate or amplify. This is because teens look to their parents for signals about their environment, stimuli, and emotions. They are looking to learn if the feelings they are having are safe. Once a teen feels safe, they can calm down, rather than continue to amp up their emotions.
When a teen is in crisis, which can include high stress, worry, or emotions that result from a mental health disorder, their level of cortisol will increase. Cortisol is a stress hormone. During a crisis, cortisol levels will rise; when an individual feels safe, cortisol levels will fall. This is a normal and healthy response to stress and danger. However, if cortisol levels remain high, it can be problematic. High cortisol can create lasting stress that can impact a teen’s ability to process the situation. Research has shown that cortisol levels can be lowered by what they call a social partner. This means that you as a parent can help to decrease cortisol levels in your teen.
When your teen creates stress for you as a parent, your cortisol levels will increase. This often feels like irritability, anxiety, or increased blood pressure—in short, it feels like any other stressful situation. While this is normal, your cortisol levels will impact your teen. However, when you can maintain calm, you can help your teen calm down as well, as they will react to your stress level staying low or decreasing.
Can Parents Learn to Maintain Calm?
As a parent of a teen, you have already gone through many years of differing parts of development. However, parenting a teen can be especially challenging. They are in a place where they are exploring their independence, more prone to engaging in high-risk behaviors, and developing the capacity to understand themselves and the world around them. While there is bound to be conflict, you can learn to stay calm in these situations to support them and help them learn to process their emotions.
Staying calm takes practice. The first step is self-awareness. When all hell breaks loose, everyone has a different reaction. While some people may freeze and shut down, others will get angry. Regardless of what your reaction is, becoming aware of it allows you to recognize it and learn how to control it. Once you have determined your response to high stress, you can learn how to manage stress without it impacting your teen.
For example, if your immediate response to a high-stress event with your teen is increased anger, learning methods to cool your anger in the moment will help. Tools that can help in this example would be taking five deep breaths and focusing on the exhale to cool down.
Regardless of the tools that are helpful for you, it is important to remind yourself what your goal is. By engaging your brain and asking yourself what your goal is, you will refocus on what you want to do in the situation. To help your teen, you will need to learn the skills that address your specific needs. Remember, this takes time and practice.
When parenting teens, the temptation is to react with shock, anger, hurt, disappointment, and more. However, there is both an art and a science to being able to avoid an emotional reaction. If you can master the art, science tells us that your lack of reaction will also help to decrease the emotional level of your child’s reactions and diffuse difficult situations. At Sustain Recovery, we work with teens and their families to help them heal from addiction and mental health disorders. Part of this is learning how to manage and work through emotionally stressful times. Would your teen benefit from a program like this? Call (949) 407-9052 to speak with a representative and learn more.