Finding Support While Supporting Your Teen

by Marilyn Gore

Parenting teenagers can be challenging. Teenagers today face things their parents could not imagine, and it can be hard for parents to know how to best support them. It can also be tough on a parent — wanting to be present for their teens and to help them in any way they can while needing support themselves. We spoke to a St. John Divine parishioner about how she is navigating life raising teenagers in today's landscape. 

My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years and we have two children – one in high school and one in college. I think one of the biggest differences between raising teens now and raising teens when our parents did is the influence of social media and the computers that they carry in their pockets and how that leads to comparing themselves to others all the time. That’s something previous generations didn't go through that I anticipate will just get worse as future generations continue down this road.

As parents, you hope you’ve met your children’s friends and their parents and that you know where they are and what they’re doing. Now we’re living in a different environment where you’re not only worried about them and their immediate friends. Now they’re connected to the web, and to people that you will never meet. Suddenly they think they have ‘friends’ that aren’t people they’ve ever met in person. There’s a whole different element of people who are speaking into your children’s lives that’s so far beyond what you can actually see and touch. It builds all these other layers of complexity into raising your children.

I think for my family, I’ve been struck by the fact that if your child is struggling with a traditional medical diagnosis, it’s easy to talk about — easy to share. It’s easy to rally the troops around you. If your child ends up struggling with a mental illness or a mental challenge or something else that’s a little bit off the traditional beaten path, there aren’t the same support systems. There aren’t those built-in places where you can go and it’s a very lonely journey seeking help for them. And sometimes dealing with those challenges is far more urgent.

The state of our society today is that there are not a lot of providers that accept insurance for mental health treatment, and most reputable providers have a four- to five-month waiting list before you can even seek assistance. At one point, we had a referral from our pediatrician and received a note back from Texas Children's Hospital that they had over a 24-month wait for their psychological services. That is extremely challenging when your child is in crisis.

We were very fortunate to find the right professionals to come around us and our family. I’ve been very fortunate to have a very supportive workplace that understands when I need to leave for various appointments. And I have a circle of very close and trusted friends that can walk through some of these things with us. And I’m blessed to have a very strong and supportive husband and a solid marriage. I can’t imagine dealing with some of these things without that support.

We’ve dealt with a lot as a community in our high schools recently. The kids with parents who’ve passed. Kids who have died by their own hands. A number of things that are part of day-to-day life but that hit our teenagers harder. When your child loses one of their classmates or colleagues to mental illness, it’s really hard to understand and really hard to talk about with them. It’s great to have a bit of a closer network.

We’ve been able to be more open with these things as we have dealt with issues that have impacted the collective community of children, not just of St. John the Divine but everywhere. It has opened the door for a bit more honest conversation with other parents and what I have come to recognize is what felt like a very lonely journey has been a very consistent experience across the board. More people that I have talked to than not have gone through their own struggles. And everyone going through their struggles felt alone. My hope is that we can come together as a church family to build greater community and build greater acceptance of talking about the challenges of mental health and other challenges that our children are facing.

Help! There's a Teenager in the House!

St. John the Divine is committed to helping parents navigate the difficult waters of raising teens in today's world. Join us for 'Help! There's a Teenager in the House', a monthly series of seminars exploring helpful topics for parenting adolescents in "the New Normal", presented by Teen & Family Services. Our first talk is on February 9 at 6:30 pm featuring Crystal Collier PhD, LPC-S. Crystal is a nationally recognized expert in adolescent neuroscience. she will be talking about challenges and opportunities that present themselves during the various stages of teenage brain development. Learn more and register here.

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