You do it, I do it, our teenagers do it – but what’s your attitude to it?
Checking facebook, emails, watching television, listening to music, reading, eating, gaming, talking on the phone, texting, drinking, smoking, drugs, extreme sports, exercising, working, tidying, sleeping… not necessarily avoidance activities, but they can be. Certainly some ways of numbing out seem more acceptable than others. Some seem more harmful than others.
Adolescence is a time of change. Your teenager can be swamped by feelings of exhilaration, indestructibility, uncertainty, anxiety – and sometimes it can feel too much to bear. It is understandable that they reach for the undemanding familiarity of the computer game, television show, or food cupboard.
No matter how well things may be going at school, with her friends, or hobbies, the teenage years are unsettling. It is natural for it all to overwhelm her at times and for her to try and dampen the feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, fear, or exuberance even.
And it’s not just our teenagers – at the end of a stressful day, or on hearing bad news, or when we lose our sense of purpose for a while, we all have something that we reach for – chocolate, bottle, computer, bed. We have different levels of guilt attached to doing these things; some folks are compassionate towards themselves, others feel a bit bad, others feel terrible, whilst others are addicted and in denial.
There is nothing wrong with reaching for comfort when all seems too much. There is only cause for concern if anyone, child or adult, repeatedly looks for comfort in the wrong places. No long term relief is found in alcohol, or bowl of ice-cream, or yet another evening spent on the computer. No real resolution is gained by staying in bed, or constant social networking, or smoking.
However yelling at our kids to leave the screen, drop the mobile, or get out of bed is not going to help them with the feelings that they are struggling with. In all likelihood, if you hassle them to change their behaviour, the battle shifts away from one with learning to manage their own feelings to one with you. You have done your daughter a major disservice if you focus on her un-done homework, diet, disapproved of down-time activities instead of considering what is going on inside her that makes her want time out.
At some level she knows if she is using something as an escape and deep down she senses that this is not serving her. But if you nag her, she will lose her sense of this and her attention shifts towards defending herself against you.
We want our daughters to dare to stay in touch with their feelings. We want them to reach out to friends or family for the support that they need. We want them to learn how to accept the range and strength of their feelings and find ways to manage their irritability, rage, envy, insecurity, sorrow, love, excitement, despair, and disorientation.
The challenge of living with a teenager is finding how to embrace the force of their feelings and be unfazed. Not try to fix things, or change them, but trust that this is part of their journey, and it too will pass. If we can handle our teenager’s feelings, it communicates to them that they too will be able to handle them. Strong feelings, especially if aimed at us, can be uncomfortable to live with, but it is important not to squash them or diminish them. Much better to acknowledge our teenager’s feelings whilst also remaining clear about acceptable ways of expressing them. And to do that we need the support of those around us. So fill the corners of your life with allies, so that you can fill your daughter’s life with your loving support.