I have spent the past few days, like I am sure most of you have, glued to the television awaiting any new piece information that might help make sense of this most awful shooting in Newtown CT. Listening to the names of the children and the staff that were lost was heartbreaking, wondering what it must be like for all those families grieving for the loss of the present and the future lives of their children and wives and sisters and mothers who were taken from them. There is plenty of discussion now and rightly so about our country's need to address both gun control and mental illness, but what I want to discuss with you is something that parents can do for their children right now.
So often in families we pay attention to the things that are our "squeaky wheels." Maybe it's the dishwasher not emptied, or the room not cleaned, or the homework not done, or the disappointing report card, or need for your teen to have an attitude adjustment. These are important issues and not to be ignored, we do need to work with our teens to be accountable. Sometimes, in the chatter of all those things, and our own busy lives we forget to pay attention to the some of the subtle signs that signal that our teens are in pain. Maybe we misread an angry response to a request for our teens to do something as attitude when it is depression or anger that something is amiss in their lives that has nothing to do with us. Or maybe it does have something to do with us, but we don't know what it is and don't know what to ask to find out.
When you see a change in your teen's behavior, maybe angrier, or sadder, or quieter, or more isolating from the family, instead of being reactive or asking alot of "why" questions that won't produce you any answers, how about trying this instead. " You know honey, you seem angrier than usual. I know when something is bothering me, sometimes it's easier to get mad, then figure out what's going on. I get we annoy you sometimes and ask too many questions, but it seems you have a lot on your mind these days, and I would like to help." Or, "honey you seem to be spending a lot more time in your room than you used to. I know you like your privacy and like your time away from us, I get it, but something feels different now. I know we annoy you sometimes and you like to get away from everybody, but I love you and am here to help in any way I can."
Reaching out to your teen in a non-confrontive but loving way lets them know that you pay attention to them, and understand that sometimes it is really hard to take the first step and ask for help.