3 Things Your Teens Fear the Most
What your teens fear most is quite different from what may keep you awake at night. Most parents’ worries are theoretical and future-based — fear for their teens’ safety at school and their ability to compete in an increasingly tough world. They worry about college admissions, jobs and unfair treatment by peers. Teens, in contrast, fear what is already directly in front of them. Though social media stretches their global perspective, what’s on their minds most is narrower than what you might think.
Three innate fears drive teen reactions. When you know those fears and what your teens need most from you, you can provide what’s already within your control — lasting antidotes to help them power through and emerge with a positive perspective.
Fear No. 1: Rejection
Who doesn’t want to be liked and accepted? But with teens, this craving trumps all else because of the intense drive to be part of a group. Worse, in the peer jungle, liking is based on who’s highest on the food chain for the day, so rejection is hard to escape. When Becca’s best friend ditched her, Becca was crushed. And when Aaron, who lived and breathed sports, didn’t make the basketball team, he wanted to quit everything and switch schools.
The antidote to rejection is unconditional love and acceptance at home. Since rejection is part of life, learning how to handle it positively is critical. If your teens end up in the dirt of the peer heap or fail to make a team or club, listen, empathize, and then offer perspective. “No wonder you’re sad. That hurts. But you know what? When I look at you, I see someone special — your heart for helping others and your passion for (fill in the blank). Remember when you (share a story), and you didn’t give up? Well, you’ll figure it out this time, too. I believe in you, and I’m blessed to have a kid like you.” With such unconditional love and acceptance, your teens can learn to take rejection in stride and become resilient.
Fear No. 2: Uncertainty and being left alone
Your teens may act like nothing bothers them, but they worry constantly. Ever-present on their minds is the survival-of-the-fittest peer environment in which even those on the highest rock can be dethroned at any moment. That makes their world outside your nest rocky, but throw in uncertainty at home — like Maya, whose dad suddenly had a lengthy overseas assignment or Trevor whose parents were in the midst of a messy divorce — and the uncertainty can be paralyzing.
The antidote to uncertainty is stability at home. When your teens arrive home, they need a safe, calm atmosphere where they can sort out their thoughts and the events that threw them a curveball that day. You are the constant in their rapidly evolving universe. They need to know you’re there, not leaving, and that they are a priority over your work. Maya needed to be assured that even if her dad was overseas, her mom would be with her. Trevor sometimes felt like a ping pong ball served between two homes, but he knew his mom’s was a safe, calm place to sort out the turmoil and that he had an open invitation to talk if and when he was ready.
There’s nothing worse than having a horrible day, needing to talk and having no one they trust to talk to. When the thundercloud arrives in your kitchen, quietly say, “I can tell you’ve had a rough day. If you want to talk, I’ll be here.” Then when the mouth opens (and it will eventually), actively listen. Throw in a “Wow, I can see why you’re upset,” or a “Tell me more about that,” and you’ll be amazed what you learn. Role-modeling unchanging character, priorities, and most of all, a rock-solid presence guarantees a foundation stronger than any uncertainty your teens face.