The Good News Is…

It’s almost spring!

And with spring comes hope and the reminder that there is light ahead. Literally, as the days get longer, and the glow outside our windows brings a much needed warmth and comfort. But also the light in our minds  – our hope and resilience – as we emerge from the difficult winter months. 

February is a notoriously challenging month where our resolve just seems to fade. Emotionally and mentally, winter simply takes its toll. 

We need this reminder of light as a beacon that there is healing and renewal ahead. 

As a bit of an aviation nerd, I like to use the analogy of the ILS or “Instrument Landing System”, which is like a locator signal that airplanes can pick up which helps them identify runways and land safely.

I feel we all need our own internal ILS; something we can attach to when it’s dark and stormy inside us, that helps us find our emotional ground again. 

This is especially true for teens and tweens who are flying in a storm perhaps for the first time in their life. While you are their safe runway, do they know how to get to you and come home safely? 

Just a few years ago your kid came to you first whenever anything bothered them. From scraped knees to mean kids on the playground, they turned to you for guidance and comfort. 

But now that they are tweens and teens, it seems like they never open up to you anymore. All of a sudden you hear about your kid’s first heartbreak because their friend accidentally let it slip that they asked out their crush and were turned down. 

Suddenly those weeks of moodiness and attitude that seemed to come out of nowhere makes sense. 

But why didn’t they just tell you? 

Developmentally, tweens and teens are becoming more self-aware; they are noticing the world around them and specifically how they influence the world around them. In a way, what this means is they are way more self-conscious. 

They used to go to you because they trusted everything you said and didn’t really think much about what other people thought about them. But now, they are hyper-aware of how others are perceiving them. And while you still have great advice, they simply need to hear what their friends think since their friends have their finger on the social pulse. 

Not that you aren’t cool. I promise you are still super rad (I lost all my “cool points” simply by using the word rad, there). 

But let’s face it, do we really know what’s going on for our tweens and teens inside their own heads and hearts?

If they aren’t opening up to you, do you really know what’s behind your teen’s current behavior?

It could actually be grief. 

When I was in high school I experienced my first heartbreak. And I didn’t tell anyone! I suffered for 6 months feeling sad, inadequate, raw, embarrassed, and it became genuine depression, all because I was managing it alone. 

Here’s the story: I had a crush on someone who didn’t reciprocate my feelings. And because I never actually dated the guy, and couldn’t claim “breakup” status, I didn’t feel I had a right to be upset. I tried to make my feelings conform to what was socially “acceptable”. But my feelings didn’t care. 

Instead of honouring my feelings and working through them, and seeking support – typical things you would do if you were grieving – I instead “grieved” by becoming more inward, more reserved and quiet socially, more angsty at home, more annoyed and easily irritated by others. I had more attitude and more meltdowns over little things. I felt so raw. 

Because my grief was boiling right under the surface but I wouldn’t acknowledge it, I was walking around with a heightened level of  emotional “arousal”. When not dealt with, heightened emotional arousal means that you become extra extra sensitive. For me, that meant everything and everyone got under my skin. I was very unpleasant to be around. 

What I wanted most was a hug and someone to tell me I was loveable. I was hurting. So so much. 

But what other people saw was a difficult, problematic, teen. 

I was told to behave better. 

But behavior wouldn’t cure my broken heart. My feelings needed to be acknowledged. 

This is a story so familiar to so many teens who are grieving things they feel they don’t have the “right” to grieve. And as a result are lashing out because they don’t actually know how to navigate this unfamiliar and complicated pain/loss. 

So is your teen grieving? 

It’s possible. Crying, becoming withdrawn, and changes in mood are obvious indicators. But here are 6 unexpected signs that you might have missed: 

Your tween or teen is: 

– easily annoyed/irritated; the smallest thing sets them off. Definitely don’t sneeze too loudly around them or you will be told off. 
– becoming frustrated at things they used to handle with grace. Their patience has worn so thin. 
– they are becoming belligerent, ruder, their attitude has spiked, you are getting more glares, eye rolls, and backtalk.
– they are just not functioning at capacity; grades slipping, chores aren’t getting done, sleeping longer, staring off into space
– they are angry! At everything – not just you, but the world, school, their teachers, coaches, their friends, and even the TV show they are watching. It’s like it’s spilling out of them. 
– not coping; they used to be pretty resilient, but now it’s like they are having emotional meltdowns all the time. Why are they so sensitive all of a sudden?

It’s easy to see when your kid is sad and down in the dumps because they appear obviously sad and down in the dumps! Plus you monitor for signs of anxiety and depression. You pay close attention to their social habits, their eating and feeding and self-care behaviours. You notice when things are off. 

But when their grief masquerades as “typical” teen behavior, you may miss what’s actually going on for them. It’s easy to dismiss this as simple “angst”.

But for teens who don’t know how to process the very difficult feelings grief brings – and may not even recognize the pain they are feeling as “grief”, their behavior can look quite different. When you don’t recognize your pain as grief, and you don’t feel you have a right to express your pain, it comes out in other more “socially expected” ways. Aka it comes out in more “teenage” ways. Angst!

But make no mistake; angst is not a developmental stage. Angst is a reaction to pain and/or emotional confusion and overload. Angst is a symptom of a deeper feeling. It is a beacon that something isn’t right. It is your teen’s emotional guidance system, that you can recognize and lock on to, when they need help getting safely back to their emotional ground.