Resources for PARENTS.


Below is a beautiful piece of writing by Gretchen Schmelzer, an American Psychologist who specialises in trauma. We have included it here as it sums up so beautifully the internal fight a teenager might be experiencing and how you as a parent may be drawn into the battlefield.

Dear Parent:

This is the letter that I wish I could write.

This fight we are in right now. I need it. I need this fight. I can’t tell you this because I don’t have the language for it and it wouldn’t make sense anyway. But I need this fight. Badly. I need to hate you right now and I need you to survive it. I need you to survive my hating you and you hating me. I need this fight even though I hate it too. It doesn’t matter what this fight is even about: curfew, homework, laundry, my messy room, going out, staying in, leaving, not leaving, boyfriend, girlfriend, no friends, bad friends. It doesn’t matter. I need to fight you on it and I need you to fight me back.

I desperately need you to hold the other end of the rope. To hang on tightly while I thrash on the other end—while I find the handholds and footholds in this new world I feel like I am in. I used to know who I was, who you were, who we were. But right now I don’t. Right now I am looking for my edges and I can sometimes only find them when I am pulling on you. When I push everything I used to know to its edge. Then I feel like I exist and for a minute I can breathe. I know you long for the sweeter kid that I was. I know this because I long for that kid too, and some of that longing is what is so painful for me right now.

I need this fight and I need to see that no matter how bad or big my feelings are—they won’t destroy you or me. I need you to love me even at my worst, even when it looks like I don’t love you. I need you to love yourself and me for the both of us right now. I know it sucks to be disliked and labeled the bad guy. I feel the same way on the inside, but I need you to tolerate it and get other grownups to help you. Because I can’t right now. If you want to get all of your grown up friends together and have a ‘surviving-your-teenager-support-group-rage-fest’ that’s fine with me. Or talk about me behind my back--I don’t care. Just don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on this fight. I need it.

This is the fight that will teach me that my shadow is not bigger than my light. This is the fight that will teach me that bad feelings don’t mean the end of a relationship. This is the fight that will teach me how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others.

This is the fight that will teach me that my shadow is not bigger than my light. This is the fight that will teach me that bad feelings don’t mean the end of a relationship. This is the fight that will teach me how to listen to myself, even when it might disappoint others.

And this particular fight will end. Like any storm, it will blow over. And I will forget and you will forget. And then it will come back. And I will need you to hang on to the rope again. I will need this over and over for years.

I know there is nothing inherently satisfying in this job for you. I know I will likely never thank you for it or even acknowledge your side of it. In fact I will probably criticize you for all this hard work. It will seem like nothing you do will be enough. And yet, I am relying entirely on your ability to stay in this fight. No matter how much I argue. No matter how much I sulk. No matter how silent I get.

Please hang on to the other end of the rope. And know that you are doing the most important job that anyone could possibly be doing for me right now.

Love, Your Teenager

The teenage brain.

An understanding of the teenage brain and how it differs from an adult brain may help some people to understand that certain behaviours that may seem irrational are actually quite normal in teenagers. It might not make the behaviour easier to love with but it may provide some reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel! This information is taking from the book Inventing Ourselves.

In her opening paragraph Professor Blakemore discusses our attitude in society to dismiss the teenager as irrational, emotional and difficult. She points out that we do not do this to any other age group in the same way. Can you imagine if we were so dismissive of someone’s opinions if they were of another age group or from a certain race? When I think back to my own teenage self, labelled as difficult, challenging, crazy I think back to the times when I was at my most challenging to others. Often this was in response to specific situations in which I was in whereby my experience was entirely dismissed because of my age and mental health. Without the response of being treated as a valued and respected human being my response was to use any other form of communication such as through starvation, self harm, withdrawal and challenging behaviour which escalated over time and ended with more and more of my rights and privileges taken away. Yet I struggled with the fact that I didn’t feel I was such a different person as an adult to the challenging teenager - albeit my behaviour was now more appropriate and acceptable. Those opinions and thoughts and personality traits that almost earnt me a label which would have placed lifelong limitations on my life had now become positive traits which I could use to my benefit, and even more revered by those around me. I never felt mentally ill as a teenager - just angry and ‘stuck’ but if I was deemed mentally ill then and I felt the same now did that mean I was mentally ill still but now capable of hiding it better? Was it just my environment - after all animals held in captivity often self harm and display challenging behaviour? The answer actually is that that teenager version of me had every right to be irritated and annoyed and distressed by circumstances. She had an intuition and wisdom back then that was not recognised or valued. Had it been then maybe things would have been different. The truth is we have to do better for our young people. The language we use in psychiatry revolves around deficit and disorder -personality disorders, eating disorders, attention deficit, autistic spectrum disorder etc. We assume these behaviours are abnormal yet why can it not be that given some of the circumstances and trauma that some children are exposed to is it not normal for them to behave as they do in order to stand a chance of having some needs met at a basic level? Imagine if we reframed and rephrased how we approach mental health in children and teenagers.

To be continued.....

what do i do if my teenager is engaging in self destructive behaviour?

There are few things worse than seeing your child in distress and engaging in behaviours that may physically harm them or put them at risk of harm in some way. If your child is not wanting to engage with you this can make you feel frustrated and powerless. “If only they would take the advice I give them it would be so much better for them!!!

It might feel overwhelming and some parents might avoid bringing it up for fear of making the situation worse or provoking conflict. Some parents may get angry. Some sad and feel guilty as if they are to blame. It is normal and acceptable to feel any emotion in response to these extremely challenging situations. It is also important to actually approach the issue with your child and we have a few tips on how to do this successfully.

First of all it is important that neither of you are highly emotive. Your teenager will be able to feel that intense emotion and it will just aggravate the situation. Instead it is really important that you have some outlet to deal with how you are feeling - whether that be talking to a friend or partner, going out for a walk or run or whatever you would normally do. When your teen is calmer try to create a space where you both feel comfortable - sometimes going for a walk or a drive can be good for teens as it reduces eye contact which may make the teen feel more comfortable. Your teens needs to know that they are important to you, you see them and value them and want to support them through this. As much as we want to come in and make everything better for our children it is really important for you to not see this as an opportunity to give solutions but just listen and allow them to try and work it out. This is the best gift you can give them.

Rather than starting with “why did you do that?” ( why can feel threatening or judgemental) try an approach like “ what is going on for you right now” and then just listen. There may be a long period of silence - that’s okay - what you are doing is creating a safe non judgemental space for your child to know that they can speak to you and you can contain not only your emotions but their emotions too. Remember your teen ‘feels you’. As a general tip what questions can be very helpful here - can you talk me through everything that happened before this ( eg episode of cutting, meltdown, getting into a fight). Your teen may not be able to describe how they are feeling but getting a bit of background as to what has gone on before can be helpful.

Instead of giving them ideas to help ( which may be met with resistance and result in a frustrating exchange between the two of you) try and give them the responsibility to work out what they need to support themselves and what your role might be in that. They may not known to start with so just ask them to give it a thought. If possible try to stay neutral to the behaviour, however hard that may be for you. If the teen feels judged in some way they may not turn to you for support or even may engage in the behaviour to get a reaction out of you.

Patience is key here - one conversation will not change anything but what you are trying to show them is that you are a safe person to talk to who can hold their emotions for them whilst they try to figure this out.

And lastly, and we say this with gentleness, if you are really struggling with feeling overwhelmed and fearful we would encourage you to take an inwards look and ask yourself if you need a bit more support with this. Whilst we are unable to offer any parental support through GRIT we are able to signpost you to LTL who kindly offer coaching sessions at a reduced rate for parents of teens on the programme. Your GP may also be a support if counselling is needed and below are a couple of books that may help.

back to resources
© Copyright GRIT Charity. All Rights Reserved.

Registered office: 18 Chiltern Road, Hitchin, SG4 9PJ

Registered Charity Number: 1176272