This article was written by the former chair of our Youth Advisory Board, Sarah Hinstorff, with contributions by Youth Advisory Board members Ilana Ginsburg and Maria Marungo.
Get Support By Teaching Parents to Understand Your Needs
Sometimes the emotions we experience can feel so intense and so profound it feels impossible to believe that other people, especially our parents, don’t know what we’re thinking. The reality is that other people can’t always guess what’s going on in our heads. And they won’t be able to unless we teach them. They can’t support us unless we tell them what we need.
Parents Won’t Know Unless You Tell Them
Lack of communication can harm relationships with parents. By not letting them in, we risk isolating ourselves from getting support.
We can’t hold someone accountable for not taking action if they don’t know it’s expected of them. Imagine if a teacher gave your entire class zeros for not completing homework that was never assigned. You wouldn’t be happy and might even be angry. You can’t do something you don’t know has to be done. End. Of. Story.
When we don’t tell parents what is really going on in our lives, they’ll focus on what they do know. That might be our grades, performances, scores . . . or when we get caught doing something wrong. Them focusing only on that part of our lives feels bad. But if that’s all we let them see, we’re acting like the teacher who never told the students about the assignment.
Set Goals Before Asking for Help
Sometimes when we get frustrated or feel down, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s upsetting us or how to move forward. To really make a change, we need to outline a clear plan of action.
Before beginning to talk about a problem, think about your goals for the discussion. Figure out exactly what you need from the other person. It’s much more likely that your parents will successfully respond to your needs if you’re able to directly and clearly express your thoughts.
Letting parents in on your thoughts can be as simple as saying, “Hey, I am having a tough time at school.” Or, “I’ve been having trouble sleeping.“ Or, “I can’t stop thinking about (fill in the blank)… It’s really stressing me out. ” The situations are endless. The key is that you give them a glimpse of your real feelings.
These small pieces of information can completely change the way your parents talk or interact with you. Sometimes when we’re stressed out, we may act out or shut down. That may make your parents even more frustrated or angry with you. And that’s exactly what you don’t need. Inviting your parents into the details of your life helps them better understand how to support you. Open communication about your reality and the pressures you face helps them know what’s really going on in your world. It makes them feel more connected to you so they can be more supportive. And that’s exactly what you do need.
Your parents will be there for you during the good times and the bad. Don’t feel like expressing your feelings burdens them. They will appreciate your honesty and the opportunity to get closer to you.
Let Your Parents Take a Walk in Your Shoes
You know yourself better than anyone else. Teach others about who you are and your needs. Unless you are willing to be open and honest, you can’t expect true understanding or support from others. Help them understand your perspective and experiences.
Think about how much more helpful your parents could be if they clearly recognize what your world looks like. Help them steer clear of stereotypes — you are an individual with your own thoughts and feelings. Minimize misunderstandings and ease the stress of miscommunications. As you think about who you are and who you want to become, be a teacher to those who will help you get there.
A Lifelong Skill You’ll Use Elsewhere
When we learn how to help parents better understand what we need, we learn to take care of ourselves and get support when needed. We take the skills we learn in our families with us into future relationships, including those we will have in our homes as adults, with friends, and in our workplaces.
Thoughts from Members of the Youth Advisory Board
“I learned that isolating myself only proved to hurt my relationship with my own parents. When I first entered middle school, I was having to deal with one of my oldest friendships falling apart; I felt both angry and confused about the whole situation. Without knowing the reasons behind my attitude, my mother would yell and we would constantly argue. What I needed most from her at that time was her comfort and reassurance that everything was going to be alright. Of course, she was incapable of just simply guessing that. It left us both distancing ourselves rather than joining together during a rough transition.”
“When you’re upset or frustrated and feel that others aren’t doing for you the things you need them to do, take a step back and ask yourself, “Did I talk to them about this?,” “do they know I’m holding them accountable for this?”, or “Do they know I need this from them?” If the answer is no, then consider having a conversation and expressing your needs and expectations. But first, be insightful and figure out exactly what it is you need from the other person. When you have something specific in mind-whether a single action or patterned behaviors, it is much more likely that someone will come through for you, if you’re able to directly express your thoughts and teach them what works for you.”