I was asked recently about how to support a teen boy who is “possibly depressed, pretty shut down, and often won’t get out of bed for school or other essential activities.”
My son hasn’t had trouble with getting out of bed so I can’t speak to that, but I do know that the idea of meeting a child where they are, is SO key to building that bridge that allows them to feel safe enough to walk across it (or to move some of the emotional junk that has kept them from being able to walk across it).
My thought was about teen boys in general and how just BEING WITH them is so important. Being still, quiet, not saying much, just being a presence is essential. Slowing it all down, having no agenda.
Lately I have been doing a lot of just going into my son's (12yo) room, after knocking lightly on the door. I really don't say anything but “hey”, and then make it obvious by my actions that I haven't a care in the world but to be closer to him. I don't try to make eye contact or ask him what he's doing. I'm just sort of content to have been let in the room. I sit on his bed and lean my back against the wall.
And then I wait.
He'll keep reading or drawing , or whatever he's doing, mostly acting as if I'm not really there. I think his limbic system is all the while checking me out, just like it did when he would spend EVERY SPECIAL TIME FOR MONTHS smashing Tonka trucks together when we first started doing Special Time ten years ago. Like, “are you REALLY going to hang with me? Or are you going to bail when you get bored?”
After about 10 minutes he starts talking about school and friends and funny things he saw on the internet. Or he shows me what he’s drawing and I make sure to pay relaxed, but interested attention. Or he’ll start shooting hoops on the basketball hoop on the back of his door and hand me the ball to shoot a time or two. Or nothing in particular will happen at all.
Here’s the cool thing. What I notice afterwards, and later that day, is that he is more relaxed, kinder to his younger brother, better eye contact, more interested in things in general, just as if he had a huge cry. It is amazing to me.
So my thought for this family, and other families of teens, is when your son is stuck in bed, pretending to sleep try climbing in bed with him, not saying much at all, having all the time in the world, and no expectation of anything being said or done. Or just lie down on the floor next to the bed.
As parents of preteens, we often have a good deal of urgency, fear, and worry about our young ones if they are anything but bright and cheery. We get worried about the teen years looming just around the corner (or that are already there), and all that they will be having to navigate.
So being still and meeting them exactly where they are is a good place to start . It’s not the complete answer, but a solid beginning of establishing trust, so that they know we are in their court when they need to unload some of the bigger stuff that gets in the way of their full and contented lives.
-Join Certified Instructor Kirsten Nottleson in her next online parenting class: Parenting by Connection Starter Class.