The information provided through Ask a Therapist is not intended to be a substitute for professional mental health therapy, diagnosis, or treatment. The information provided is solely for educational purposes. We encourage you to call United Action for Youth Counseling Department at 319-338-7518 and set up an appointment with one of our licensed mental health professionals to further discuss concerns and treatment options. If you believe you are a danger to self or others please call 911 or the crisis hotline at 1-855-800-1239.
Thank you for reaching out. It can be really difficult to ask for help, especially when the problem is about an adult you’re close to. Most young people and their parents struggle with how to communicate positively at one time or another. Your feelings are valid, and it is important that all of us can have space to feel that we are heard by the people in our lives.
Your question reminds me of something therapist and author Lori Gottlieb wrote recently: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/09/dear-therapist-my-mom-wont-stop-pressuring-me-to-get-better-grades/616294/ in response to someone with a similar issue. In the article, Gottlieb points out that when parents don’t know how to express themselves fully, they can end up nagging their kids. For example, if you talked with your parents about why they push you to “try harder” they might say something like, “Well, I want you to be successful.” Underneath all the nagging is love, and because they love you they want you to be successful in school. Sometimes people want to show they care but do not always show it in the best way.
But just because your parents might be struggling to express themselves does not mean you should stop trying to have your feelings heard. As I said before your feelings are valid and need to be heard. Gottlieb offers several suggestions for approaching your parents – or guardian, or foster parents, or anyone else taking care of you – when you feel they aren’t listening to you or get defensive when you talk to them. It can be very hard to express your emotions and using ‘I statements’ can help. For example, “I feel ___ when____, can we try___”. When talking with your parents a few tools might also include: Be prepared to listen. set ground rules, such as no yelling or one topic at a time, define concern and each person’s view, and identify goals or solution for the short term and/or long term.
Another strategy is writing your feelings in a letter. Sharing the letter with your parents could help avoid interruptions and give you a chance to clearly express your thoughts. It might also open the door to have a more direct conversation with your parents. If letter writing isn’t your thing, you might consider getting a third party involved, like a therapist or someone else you and your parents trust. This third person
can help moderate the conversation to make sure each person has the chance to express themselves without getting cut off.
It can be scary to approach your parents about your concerns, especially if you already feel they aren’t listening to you. But rest assured, you’ve already taken the hard first step by asking for help!
All the Best,