When a parent is taking strain, the nearest ear is often their child’s. But how much emotional responsibility
should a teen have to take?
When things go wrong in an adult’s world, complaints and tales of relational woes pour forth. What the parent forgets is that the recipient of these emotional burdens is too young to start psychologically deciphering the implications of the associated facts - let alone have answers to his or her parent's love-life issues.
Granted, these tales are often exposed to the youngster when there is a void in the parent’s support system: no friends, no spouse, no siblings.
Mother will stand in the kitchen, eye the restless teen and through a mouthful of comfort food begin the same story told last week, spiced up with one or two new revelations.
So what’s the problem? A loss of security
According to Cheryl Morilly from Childline, Western Cape: 'Teenagers still believe that their parents are able to deal with difficulties
(big and small) and that they are there to protect them (the teen)'.
So when parent over-shares, the teen's sense of security is immediately compromised. If the parent can’t protect themselves from problems, how can they protect their offspring?
Apart from feeling overwhelmed by the need to sort through Mom’s (or Dad’s) crisis, the teen will most likely bottle their own problems simply so that they do not become an additional burden to the parent’s crumbling attempt at life.
Sent out to work
With emotional strife often comes financial difficulty. I've heard a single mother stressing her young daughter into finding part-time work, this while the daughter is meant to be writing matric. The youngster pays rent, leaving her studies in jeopardy.
Behind the scenes though, she battles through fear of the unknown world of financial darkness and debt, something which can loom extremely large in the unrestricted imagination of an inexperienced youngster.
So how much is too much…of a burden to tell?
Morilly clarifies that 'one should not completely shy away from sharing challenges with your teenagers. However, your sharing should not be inappropriate or burdensome'.
Not every teen can cope to the same degree. Telling teen A that 'we can't afford the necessities this month' might not have the same result as telling teen B. A parent needs to be sensitive to a child's emotional maturity.
Finally, consider the coping mechanisms you're using to deal with life’s burdens because your teen, who’s still learning from you, will embrace these as the norm. So while you may want to avoid ‘over-sharing’, substitute this with the correct coping strategy, and ask for professional help if you need it.
How much should teens be told about emotional and financial woes in the family?