As a parent, sometimes the tug of love towards our children is so strong, we just want to take all the pain away from them, and make their lives as easy as possible. We want our teenagers to be happy, but your teenagers happiness levels are sometimes not easy to gauge, as their mood swings from depressed to euphoric, and their emotions are battered by broken friendships, teachers who hate them, homework that’s too hard, and mornings that are too early.
I had lovely parents myself who, when I was a teenager, often said “we just want you to be happy”. So why did I always have the feeling that I had somehow let them down?
Because they never defined happiness! Being happy to me was hanging out with my friends, and coming home late from parties. I never really asked them (have to this day never asked them – to my shame) what they meant by happiness. If I thought about their definition at all I would have assumed their idea of happiness was that I should take advantage of my education, do well at school, get a good, job, get a good partner, settle down in a nice house and have kids. These were all big goals, with long timelines, as a teenager they were certainly not my priority.
- Maybe I should have asked my parents what they meant by happiness.
- Maybe they meant, choose subjects at school that you like, so your school time will be enjoyable.
- Maybe they meant take a job which has meaning for you so you feel fulfilled when you go to work.
- Maybe they meant make your own choices of partner and when to have kids.
Asking someone, telling someone, to be happy can be disempowering, when it is not qualified by the freedom to define what happiness means. So when you want to take the pain away, when you want your teenager to be happy, sit down and talk about what is making them unhappy, and what steps you can take together to take the unhappiness away. Give your teenager the tools to take control a bad situation, to measure when they will feel satisfied with the outcome, and let them know you are behind them, supporting them in their decisions.