The real difference between parents and others who work with young people, is the emotional involvement which magnifies the intensity of the frustration, the worry and disappointment toward teens.. While other adults in a teen’s life may deeply care about them, they do not share the intensity of feelings nor the entanglement with those feelings that parents do.

As a parent we can feel that we are the problem when we can’t reach our children. This emotional intensity is activated on three levels:

Need to Protect

Every parent’s greatest fear is that something will happen to their child that they cannot protect them from. When our children are in danger, physically, emotionally or spiritually, our instinctive impulse to protect kicks in. This is helpful in that it powerfully moves us to action. It can be unhelpful in that the emotions can overpower our reason. When this happens we move from parenting from logic to parenting from emotion. There are times when both are valuable, but when the emotional reactions don’t work, we need to find a way to move into a more logical place.

Need to Provide

As parents we have an innate need to provide for our children—physically, emotionally and spiritually. When we feel as though they are lacking in any of these areas (even when they’re intentionally pushing our buttons) we can unconsciously react out of fear of not meeting this need. One thing that may help when you’re feeling anxious as a parent is to ask yourself “In what areas could I provide better for my children? Emotionally? Spiritually? Financially? Physically?” Then identify one small action you can take today to be a better provider. Most often it’s our child’s emotional and spiritual needs, which because they’re not urgent, take a back seat to the other two. 

Need to Give Pleasure

This does not mean extravagant vacations, or luxury. It simply means we need to know that our children are happy. When our kids aren’t happy, we take it personally and can feel “I should be doing something different.” Or “The reason they’re not happy is because of something I’ve done or not done.” This is also our need to know that our kids know we love and care for them. They won’t always feel happy and we know that, but even during those times we have a deep need to know that they, on some level, know that we love them.