In the last few months, it has gotten so hard for my teenage daughter to talk to me. I learn everything from listening to her tell her friends. Yesterday I overheard her telling a friend about being a finalist in a writing contest at school. When I asked her about it, she said she didn’t want to tell me because she knew I’d freak out. But I’m excited for her—not upset! Why would she think I’d “freak out” over something so amazing?
Dear Excited Mom,
Remember the “cone of silence” in the Get Smart movie, where you can talk and yell and excitedly holler without anyone hearing you? I think you need to go get yourself a cone of silence for all your dealings with your teenager. Because to a teenager, “freaking out” equals… any emotion.
Whether you respond positively or negatively, teenagers will view any visible reaction as extreme. Think of them like skittish little deer that will go bouncing away with any sudden movement. In other words, “freaking out” has nothing to do with overreacting. It’s just reacting.
Now as a mom of a teen daughter myself, I know how unfair this seems! Being excited for a daughter’s achievement should be a perfectly reasonable response, darn it! But we’re dealing with a teenager and well, that’s just how teenagers view things.
But there’s hope for this parent/child communication thing. When I did the surveys with teenagers for my book For Parents Only, three out of four kids on our survey said they would like to share things with their parents—as long as they were sure they wouldn’t overreact. (In other words: as long as they were sure they wouldn’t react at all.)
So here’s the tip: the next time you hear something amazing (or disturbing), respond very calmly even if you are wanting to jump and holler inside. (“Hey, good job in being a finalist for the writing contest. Let me know how it goes.”) After proving that you will remain more calm on the outside than you feel on the inside, your teen will see you as a safe place for them to share.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and teens, including For Women Only, For Men Only and her newest, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times.