Shame and Teens

Consistently at prevention meetings we hear, "Teen's need to have a trusted adult". Then in a chorus, we tell teens, "Go to your trusted adult". Then we turn and leave. We assume they know what that means and who that might be. Some of them roll their eyes on the inside (well, they all do that) and think, 'stupid adult'.

"Shame on you"

Many of them feel that unspoken phrase. They are under extreme pressure to perform with perfection, from adults and from themselves. Sometimes, a teen lives in a home where that shame is spoken, and they are blasted every time they make a wrong move. Or, their situation in life is causing stress for the family, parents are burnt out, have run out of creativity and are reacting badly.

Regardless, teens need someone who will be their 'safe place' to land. They need an adult that can take the time to create a space where they can be listened to with compassion. (the origin of the word Compassion means to suffer with). If we take the time to remember when we were teens, we hopefully had someone, our parents, a teacher or a coach who believed in us and HEARD us.

If we want teens to have safe adults, we need to intentionally choose

to be one for them.

Shame: Healthy and NOT....What's the difference?

Healthy shame says the action or situation is bad

Unhealthy shame says the person is bad

The responsibility of how shame is perceived by a teen falls on the adult. We do want them to have a healthy sense of shame. Healthy shame is simply a working and informed conscience. What we don't want is for them is to be emotionally defeated with a damaged self-worth because something in life has gone wrong. By committing to be the trusted adult, we choose to instill a healthy sense of self with expectations focused on the child's personal growth, not our own self-esteem. That can be a subtle nuance.

Crisis is an opportunity for growth:

In times of stress, parents are in survival mode, driven by adrenaline, insecurities, and possibly old unhealthy relationship patterns. Often, they end up reacting instead of responding. For a teen, their brain is still developing and their reasoning slower, their perception could be ,'I am bad', not 'the action was bad'. They may not intend to make them feel that way, but some kids do. Remembering that teens may be hearing adults this way, should motivate us to be twice as diligent in how we receive them when they share something with us.

The crisis is not just an opportunity for the teens growth. If worked through well, the hardship becomes an opportunity for the parent to reevaluate their expectations for their child. Is a disappointment about you or them? It's a strong parenting practice to continually reflect on motivations and make adjustments. There is an ever changing and organic nature of family life that we sometimes ignore when we're stressed and busy, that comes to the surface when home life is hard.

That's good!

Hard times are often a chance to improve, purify and focus on what's best for the child's development and take the opportunity to move in a direction that gives life. Parenting from a place of strength provides that safe space for them we tell them they need to have. You become the trusted adult, the lifelong wisdom person. If parents can shift how they see the situation, they could end up giving a young person a gift that will stay with them for life.

Pause: Reflect on the reaction, peel back the layers.

  • The tension between expectations that are about the adults self-worth and not the child's personal development is a place of stress and adds to a crisis.

  • The motivation of the adult and health of their expectations determines the filter that they hear and respond to their teens.

  • Expectations focused on the adult's self-worth: 'How could you....', 'What were you thinking...',' No child of mine...'

  • Expectations focused on the child's growth: 'Im sorry you have to work through this, I know it's hard', 'You can navigate these consequences', 'What would you do differently next time?' 'How can I help so we can both do better?'

Sift out the old bad patterns and choose the stronger ones


  • Re-adjust your motivations for your child and set goals. What kind of adult are you hoping to raise?

  • What patterns in your conversations shut your teen down? Leave that pattern behind (that takes work from you)

  • What softens them and opens them up to share from the heart? (you may have to give a little of your heart to receive some of theirs) Intentionally choose to provide the opportunity for those moments.

  • What leads to growth and strength? Focus on that and nurture it.

Diffuse the bad. Grow the good.

Do you know a parent who is struggling to manage a hard situation with a teen? Would they benefit from Crushed: When parenting is Hard ?

Share this post with them.

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You Can NOT Be Replaced

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