Home Parenting a Struggling Teen: Accepting Painful Truths

Parenting a Struggling Teen: Accepting Painful Truths

 

Parenting a Struggling Teen: Accepting Painful Truths

March 24, 2021

Most people enter parenthood with dreams about having deeply satisfying, rewarding relationships with their children as they grow and develop successfully.  Typical parents fantasize about their children’s successful futures, achievements, and budding personalities.  They imagine their precious child maturing into an accomplished adult and their rich parent-child relationship.  When a teen begins to struggle, parents often view the descent as a reflection on their parenting abilities.  After all, what makes a parent look perfect?  A perfect child!  The struggling teen can feel like an assault on a parent’s dreams, abilities, confidence, and self-esteem, sending parents down a painful soul-searching path.  Somehow the cute, adorable infant has become contentious and unmanageable.  What was once unthinkable has become reality.

Many parents discover during their children’s adolescence that the best-laid parenting plans sometimes turn into nightmares.  Parents of struggling teens often second- and third-guess their decisions and judgments, despite the fact that they made the best possible decisions given the information available at the time they were made.  Should we have pulled him out of that school earlier?  Why didn’t we send her to a counselor when she was in the seventh grade and having so many problems?  Would things have turned out differently if we had put him on medication?

One of life’s great challenges is accepting painful truths.  The unalterable truth may be that one’s child has issues that are enormously frustrating to the child and you.  Some features of people’s personalities and behavior can be changed, but some cannot.  Parents of struggling teens may need to abandon rich fantasies of the “ideal child” and learn how to accept, honor, and, yes, even celebrate the real child they have.  Parents who can grieve the loss of the fantasy child are freer to appreciate their actual child’s unique charms and gifts while addressing the child’s very real challenges.  Accepting painful truths can help parents acknowledge their family’s circumstances and begin to chart a constructive course to manage them skillfully and effectively, drawing on the practical advice and resources contained in this series of postings.

Frederic Reamer Ph.D. Bio

Dr. Reamer is a professor in the Graduate Social Work Program at Rhode Island College.

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