Two mistakes parents of older teenagers and college students often make
Our therapists work with both young adults (older teens and college students) and their parents who are suffering from depression and/or anxiety. While we see family members individually, sometimes it’s helpful to see both the young adult and their parent(s) together to help everyone adapt to the changes that happen in the relationship as teenagers become young adults. Even when the client is a college student, it is common for us to have a few family sessions involving both the client and their parents.
It has overwhelming been my observation (get ready for me to turn into captain obvious here) that parents want to help their children be happy and want to be supportive themselves. In fact, parents want so badly for their child to experience less depression and anxiety that they are usually making these two mistakes:
- Minimizing their child’s problems. Well meaning parents often invalidate their children by trying to convince their teenager or college student that things aren’t really “that” bad. For instance, when a student is stressed about an upcoming exam a parent might say, “I’m sure you’ll do great.” When a college student calls saying how much they miss home, mom may answer, “But I know you love it there. You really wanted to go away to school!” A teen who is upset over their first major breakup may find it less than comforting when their parent responds, “Oh your first heartbreak…It wasn’t meant to be. Someone better will come along. You’ll see.” All of these well intentioned statements are invalidating-they communicate to your child that you don’t understand the impact of their situation or that their current emotions are wrong. It often leads to the young adult making even more extreme statements to “prove” how they feel or worse yet: shutting down and not telling you the next time they feel this way.
- Trying to fix problems for their child. Out of pure love and concern, parents often want to swoop in and offer solutions or even fix things on behalf of their kids. What do I suggest parents try instead? Validation. Marsha Linehan lines out 6 different levels of validation in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, but really they can help any young adult who is feeling overwhelmed, trying to navigate their emotions and trying to increase their independence feel supported by their parents and more confident in themselves. I wrote a blog post applying the six levels of validation to communicating with teenagers and the same concepts can be used for parents of college students or even parents of adult children.
The take home message here is that while it’s hard to see your child suffering, anxious or depressed, it’s important to try to understand exactly what they are feeling before your jump in and try to solve their problem. Yes, it’s good to encourage them to get help. Yes, it’s good to help your child keep things in perspective. However, it’s more important (or at least the first step is) to help them feel heard and supported through the use of validation.
If you or your young adult want help navigating strong emotions whether they’re related to parenting, adjusting to life changes, healing after a trauma, anxiety or depression please reach out and call Aspire Counseling at 573-328-2288 today. We will ask about your unique situation and carefully match you with the therapist who can validate both you and your son/daughter and help you both feel better.