A few months ago I had a mother bring her teenage daughter into my practice without letting her know about the appointment. The teenager stared at me with disgust as her mother went on and on about her lengthy list of concerns for her daughter. “She won’t talk to me. I love her so much but she seems depressed and angry. She doesn’t exercise, doesn’t care about school or grades, doesn’t have any motivation. I just want her to open up to me, etc. etc.” I have to admit, after listening to the mother and watching her daughter rolling her eyes, slinking further and further into the corner of my couch, I wanted to tell the mother what the daughter told me the minute after I had her mom leave the room: JUST SHUT UP!
Of course, I didn’t say this but the daughter did – after I asked what she thought about what her mother had just reported. “If she only would stop asking me questions, asking me how I feel, from the time I wake up until the time I get home, maybe I would talk to her. She is so on top of me and stressed out about my success that I can’t even think my own thoughts. She needs to just shut the fuck up.” The more the daughter spoke about how annoying her mom was, the more relaxed she became in my room. Her eyes, which were initially dull and disengaged began to light up. I even detected a faint smile.
My one direction to the mother when I saw her by herself at the end of the session was: Do not ask her what she talked about in our session. From there, I began seeing her daughter individually, who opened up about to me about her life. Much of it was normal teenage angst. I reassured her mom that things would soon begin to improve. I told her to become more aware of the way she spoke to her daughter, more cognizant of the litany of questions she asked, which were really just her verbalizing her own fears about her daughter’s success. I also told her to plan one thing every two weeks just with her and her daughter where they could hang out together- not necessarily talking, but sharing a fun activity.
Over the course of a few weeks, the mother followed my directions and magically, the daughter began to slowly open up to her. The activities they began to share became fun for both mother and daughter, taking the focus off the mother’s concerns and building the foundation of a real relationship. It has only been a couple of months and the daughter’s grades have begun to dramatically improve. She seems more motivated at school and has begun exercising and eating healthier.
What a reminder to STOP: simply stop asking questions, stop talking, stop stressing. Realize that beginning at age 11, it is a teenager’s job to distance themselves from their parents and form a group identity with friends. This is what they need to become independent adults. Make a conscious effort to LISTEN and also, plan something fun with your teenager that can, without you even realizing it will bring you closer than you ever were before.