Garr! If I tried asking my teen if she was ok, her head would rotate 360 degrees and I would be incinerated on the spot. The problem is, so much is happening at any one time for these kids, it's like being on a roller coaster ride. Without the ability to see the twists and turns coming up. Some teens think they 'should' be ok so they will answer thus. Others are not self reflective enough to give an answer. Yet others will be suspicious of your reason for asking. Exhausted, frazzled and busy parents will get an automatic -sure, why wouldn't I be? I have asked the question one day to find the next day is completely different. After raising two girls already with a third girl now 16 and suffering from a chronic, severe anxiety condition, I can only recollect what works for me when I try to touch base with each of them. The eldest girl, between 16 and 18 years barely spoke to us. She hissed and growled at her sisters. There was a lot of grunting, eye rolling and disdainful looks. Her best friend's parents didn't believe me when I described her behavior at home. Put her in the passenger side of a car, and no sisters in the back, drive for 15 minutes at least, and she would tell me everything! What she needed was opportunity. And no face to face! Second dughter told me way more than I ever wanted to know. I was given details, blow by blow intricacies of teenage life and relationships. I'm still suffering from the effects. The 16 year old, doesn't know from moment to moment sometimes. We have had suicidal lows, foggy disinterest, beautifully delightful times and out of control angry times. During the tough times, I use my mental checklist. Is she sleeping, eating, drinking? I don't ask her, or confront her, I observe. Does she join us at the table, lounge, garden or wherever we are gathered for any amount of time, or is she avoiding us? Does she yell at the dog when I let her into the teen's room, or welcome her with cuddles and pats? (My dog can do as many gross and annoying things as she likes, I'm pretty sure my Chillidawg has saved my daughter from self harm many times) Can I engage her interest when yabbering on about people we know, events, news or whatever. When I ask her if she would like to spend time with me on Thursday or whenever, watching a movie or some such and she gives a yes answer or 'I can't mum, I'm doing something with Blahblah'. That's great. Kids with plans are looking forward. My sure fire way of touching base with all of them was to confess a worry, problem or difficulty and ask them for their opinion, help or insight. Seeing their parent struggling with something makes you appear more approachable. I'll tell the teen I went out to the shops with my jumper inside out, or that I have hurt feelings from something, and they are more likely to confide when they are feeling lousy. Three girls, three very different approaches- occasional success! For all three though, being available, quiet and calm was the only real circumstances that worked in our favor. Being there, is not the same as being available and approachable. Sincerely though, if they genuinely want to hide how they are from you, no approach will work.
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Your email struck a cord. My daughter also is lonely, finds it difficult to connect with other teens in a school environment. Due to an extreme anxiety condition, she hasn't been to high school for two years. We have a treatment team around us, but just one genuine friend would make a big difference. The problem is, teens are undergoing extreme changes in physiology, technology, learning and relationships within a school system that is anything but flexible or tailored towards individuals. The school my daughter attended was ill equipped to deal with my girl's anxiety triggers and before we knew it, she was too behind and cut off from friendships that it became a toxic environment. I don't regret 'pulling the plug' on that school. I see now there are many different ways for her to gain an education without being made to suffer that intensely for it. Some of our kids are not built for this mold. My other kids did well at high school, but, high school is full of teenagers. Let's be honest here, they can be up and down, mixed up, volatile, reactionary and thoughtless. For some teens, struggling already, it's a toxic environment which can tip them from coping one minute to utter despair the next. There are schools out there, and services available that can help and support your son's continued education. But look very carefully at your school now. Right now. How long and how many phone calls does it take for the Principle to see you for an extended appointment? Does he listen? Does he ask you how he/ she can help? Does he have a list of services he can call on to support your sons continued and successful education? Often, individual teachers are amazing, but if they are not supported by the principle, there is little they can do. The Principle sets the school's tone. If your child is important to him, he will be important to all the staff. My girl was not, she was an annoyance, a blip, an anomaly. His response to her panic attacks was to call ambulances and have her carted off to hospital, or have office staff call me to collect her. Look for a school that has lunchtime clubs, often friendships are easier for our kids to form if the activities provide shared interests. A bit of struggle in teenagerhood creates resilience, I'm all for that. It needs to be balanced with concern that at such an age, your son is not overwhelmed. Historically, teens were already set by age 14 into a role, my father was an apprentice to a boilermaker, my mother was working a dairy farm with her father, taking her siblings to school, then entered nursing to be put on wards, not in a classroom like we do now. I think our kids are too much in their heads, forced to interact for extended periods of time in a competitive environment almost entirely of an intellectual nature. No wonder some kids are overwhelmed. Not because they are weaker, unintelligent, have learning difficulties, family problems or whatever. But because high school is an artificial construct that subscribes to one size fits all. And if it doesn't fit? Then it's our kids that are broken? Teenage boy's brains Keep changing and developing into their twenties, yet they are expected to have a persona to project in school, to fit in, be part of the pack. Differences are not rewarded, not by most of the student body. Most teens just want to make it through the day at school with out something embarrassing happening. So, my advice, balance. An interest outside and away from school .fun but not competitive. To remind him that school is not real life. Contact MIND, which has real face to face groups and activities for both him and you. Find out what resources are available to your son through school, maybe contact an educational psychologist for an assessment. Check out other schools, consider TAFE, look for camps for teens during school holidays that build social connections with like minded teens. Give him one on one time with you once a week, scheduled in, do something that interests you both, that he would find difficult to approach without you by his side. Have you ever climbed a wall at a rock climbing Centre? Would your son enjoy seeing his dad trying something out of his comfort zone? I'm planning to take my girl horse riding, knowing it's going to kill my back, and that a middle aged, nervous, unbalanced women is going to make the experience for her memorable, not because her anxiety will cripple her, but because she will be so engaged with the ridiculousness of my situation, she will have her energies set on 'getting Mum back alive' Its giving her a memory and an achievement in one. I hope it reminds her to focus on good times, to balance out the bad. Mostly, remember, extraordinary people, the movers and shakers, cultural leaders, quiet, dedicated people who change the world for the better, they were our kids, our misfits, who didn't fit the mold. It's ok to be different, it's a blessing for humanity that these kids don't follow the herd. Churchill sufferered from depression all his life, Bill Gates changed the way we interact with the world, spends billions of dollars of his and others money to eradicate malaria, you can bet he was the biggest nerd in high school, and there are plenty of more identifiable people who achieve much despite high school not because of. Do your research. He may not see a future because he does not identify with the teens around him. Show him the world needs people just like him. Sit down and watch the recent documentary on Tony Robbins, an extraordinary man who hid who he was in high school, and has achieved amazing success and personal satisfaction in his private life. Simply because he was different and used his non herd gifts in an unusual and extraordinary way. I'm not a fan, nor have I read his books or listened to his podcasts. But wow, the doco was riveting. Love from mum and dad is great, but extraordinary kids do need some extra help sometimes, until they are ready to 'take it from here' look for outside help, build a team around your boy, provide him opportunities to make decisions about what's best for him, be prepared to accompany your extraordinary boy through an extraordinary life.
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