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While our children fight to fit in with their peers throughout their lives, this deep desire to belong seems so much more pronounced when our kids are teenagers. At a time of life where they feel awkward because of acne, embarrassed because of voice changes, uncomfortable with bodily changes, and uncertain about unspoken social rules, just one glance of disgust from a peer can emotionally level a child. The hunger for acceptance is fierce.
Our hearts break for our children as much as when they were little seeking friendships, and there is no owner's manual for navigating this stage or phase with our kids carrying diagnoses. If you find your child refusing to follow their medical protocols, afraid that people will see their medical alert bracelet, behaving in a little bit more "prickly" fashion, allow me to share with you some of the things that are helping us survive these years in our home without coming completely off the rails:
- Choose your battles. -- Every time your child asserts him or herself, rebelling against what they "should" be doing, examine if this is "a hill to die on." If you don't check yourself before entering into a struggle, you may find yourself fighting with your teen all the time. Ask yourself, What is the worst that could happen if my child has it their way? If the answer is not an issue of life or death, give them some wiggle room. This is how our children take ownership of their own diagnosis and grow in responsibility for their own care.
- Draw your child closer in affection. -- While the tendency is to push a prickly teenager away, allowing frustration and irritation weaken our relationship is a mistake. They are still children. They need that affirmation from us that we will be there for them no matter what. See the good in your child in spite of the ugly rebellion. Share stories of YOUR teen years, your worries, awkwardness, and how you survived. This will help your son or daughter to know that you understand them and that there is hope of coming out positively on the other side of this emotional phase of life.
- Work on strategies together when things are calm. -- Is your child having a tough time fitting in with peer groups? Is he or she fighting you on a treatment regimen? Spend time together talking things out when the moods are not flaring. Brain storm on ways that non-negotiable therapies or medications can fit in with their schedule. Help your child come to the logical conclusion that managing their diagnosis will help them maintain privacy better than skipping effective self-care. Provide a safe space to work on social skills.
- Allow your child to grieve their diagnosis. -- As our children grow towards adulthood mentally and emotionally, they begin to understand the implications of their challenges. Just as we parents can find ourselves in repeated cycles of grief, so can our kids. Suddenly, wondering if they can get a part-time job or if someone will date them takes on an entirely different dimension that is more serious than that for the average teen. Let them be angry about it, and share your frustration too. These times of grief can bring a family closer as you share the shelter of one another. It certainly has done that for us.
- Point them to Jesus. -- Although it is listed last, this is of primary importance. Walking our teenagers through God's word, showing them how Jesus was rejected too, brings them more than affirmation. It reminds them that they are never alone when they are feeling like they are on life's margins. Concrete thinking can make this difficult for a youth to fully assimilate, but it is a gift that remains tucked in their hearts for a lifetime. Every one of us, young and old need to be reminded from time to time that our boundless worth comes from the One who made us, not other people. As with every other person, there's a time where your child will be ready to receive that and a time to keep silent. Be sensitive to the timing with this one or you will end up being just another parent trying to cram God down your child's throat.
Take heart, parent, in knowing that you are not alone in this season. Every teen just wants to fit in. You and your teen will make it through this. We can be victorious together.
PRAY: Father, thank You that You are with us through all seasons of life. Jesus, thank You for suffering rejection, so You can empathize with our hurts. Help us to always remember the boundless value you ascribe to each of us.
~ Barb Dittrich