Washington DC Psychologist,  Dr. Lynn Friedman asks the question, “Teenagers: When to solve your adolescent’s problems and when to let them figure out their own solutions”. She examines psychologist Lisa Damour’s New York Times article, Parents of Teenagers Stuck Taking out the Emotional Trash“.

Damour describes how teenagers (and adults, too) sometimes dump their emotional trash on their parents as a way of managing painful feelings.

Parents of Teenagers: When to solve your adolescent’s problems

I agree with Damour, it can be helpful to absorb some of your teenagers anxiety and distress but not always. I loved Damour’s example of a Dad who received a text from his adolescent, “failed a test”. Dad replied, Got a game plan? Luv, Dad. Thus, returning the trash to its rightful owner.

That Dad, appropriately, gave the “trash” back to the teenager. If your adolescent is handing off his emotionally worries and anxiety without thinking about it …. it can be vital to give it back – or at least to give some of it back – rather than taking it over for him. Why? Because it’s important to help your teenager solve his problems rather than solving them for him.

The Dad in the example does exactly that. He supports his teenager in a move toward healthy independence. In contrast, the parent who jumps in ready to fix the problem MAY be undermining the adolescent’s healthy pull for independence and mastery.  The parent who rushes in with solutions may be depriving the teenager of an opportunity to solve his own problem and to develop the sense of competence and satisfaction inherent in doing so. Solving an adolescent’s problem for him may send a message, “we don’t really think that you are capable of solving this problem on your own”. That can, in turn, undermine his sense of self-efficacy.

Of course, some problems may be too big for teenagers to solve on their own.

I have in mind, the loss of a loved one, anxiety, depression, the turbulence of divorcing parents, academic difficulties that arise out of learning differences. In these cases, it can be very useful for the parent to step in and think about how to be helpful and, even, assess whether a psychological evaluation might be useful.

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