We want our children to be able to ask for help, and be confident that the important people in their lives will provide the support they need to guide them through the tough times. Asking for help when needed takes a growth-mindset. It requires the ability to recognize when you need help and the courage to seek answers outside of your limited capacity. It is the pursuit of growth and development. As a parent, you can help your child through the uncertainty of the teenage years, and development into a forward thinker and doer, yet don’t think you have to do it alone. It’s just as important for you to reach out for help when you need it, and here’s why.
‘Be strong, be fearless, be beautiful. And believe that anything is possible when you have the right people there to support you.’
– Misty Copeland
- Healthy Help Is Not Over Dependency
Asking for help is a sign of maturity and confidence. Dr. Carol Dweck coined the term “Growth Mindset” in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, and explains it as “the tendency to believe that you can grow”. We tell our teenagers that asking for help when they really need it is a strength, and not a weakness. Being comfortable to ask for help is a key developmental skill that every child needs, both for their physical and mental wellbeing. The process is also a chance for them to focus on their problem-solving skills, and get used to communicating and expressing their needs in a positive, cooperative way.
There is a balance between making it okay to ask for help without fostering over dependency; they need to know you will support them without expecting you to resolve their issues for them, and should still feel that they can handle basic issues on their own. As teenagers understand themselves and the world around them, it is important that they recognize their ability to grow, and that growth and change comes with being open to other opinions and experiences. When they see their parents experiencing and engaging in this, they internalize the messages and engage.
Finding that balance goes for parents as well as children, in reverse. The older we get, the less comfortable we seem to be with putting our hand up, even though support is part of a healthy and happy life. According to an article from 2020 in Psychology today by Jeffrey Davison, the reason asking for help can be so hard is ‘fear’. He writes that ‘we are loathe to ask for help because this seemingly simple act carries a number of high social risks: rejection, vulnerability, diminished status, and the inherent relinquishing of control.’
As adults, this fear can feel like an even bigger barrier when our children are thrown into the equation. Many adults have been raised themselves with the ideal that parents provide guidance to their children from an “always correct” standpoint, which is counter-active to opening themselves up to asking for help. Yet as individuals and grown-ups we know in our hearts this not to be true, thereby creating a paradox within.
As humans, we are hard wired to be sociable. According to the ‘The Cooperative Human’*, research paper from the journal Nature, ‘Cooperation lies at the heart of human lives and society — from day-to-day interactions to some of our greatest endeavors.’ Relying on others, discussion and teamwork are all part of being emotionally strong and approaching life with a growth mindset.
2. It’s Important to Walk the Talk
‘Well done is better than well said.’
– Benjamin Franklin
Whatever we say to our teenagers about it being okay to ask for help, if there is a mismatch in our own behavior, they will never believe that it really is acceptable or positive. The way we conduct ourselves will always be a much stronger guide for their values, attitudes, and beliefs. Family support is shared by the family you build. Think about your own response to challenges. Do you run around trying to solve everything by yourself, keeping it all in so your family know that you are stressed but not why? Or do you assess the situation, and acknowledge, ‘I have an issue with this. Can you help?’ From small things, such as asking for help with setting the table and meal prep, to bigger issues such as an unwell family member or budget issues, healthy interdependency is based on mutual aid and support.
The age of your children will obviously have a bearing on what you discuss with them, but the key thing is that they hear and witness you ask for help from a very early age, and sub-consciously absorb when and why. For example, you can do it yourself but don’t have time so need support, or it’s an issue where you don’t have the answer and loop in someone who has more experience. Don’t expect them to ask for help if you never do it yourself, or don’t respond positively and give them your full attention when they do. Our ability to be emotionally and psychologically open when we need help sends deep and powerful messages to everyone in our lives, especially our children.
3. Parenting Skills Are a Work in Progress
‘It’s the best thing in the world, the most challenging thing in the world, being a parent, and one of the first lessons I learned was to ask for help.’
– Kerri Walsh Jennings
In the words of Alvin Toffler, ‘Parenthood remains the greatest single preserve of the amateur.’ We are not born parents; it’s a steep learning curve that continues with each new chapter in our child’s life, with every year requiring an adjustment of those skills. That’s what makes it so rewarding, and that’s also what makes it so challenging. As we progress as a parent, our challenges progress as well. Our children teach us a lot about ourselves, where we have come from and how we have evolved. In our parenting, we need to remain open, practicing the growth mindset that we want for our children. As they grow, and we are open to their changes, the act of asking questions on both sides becomes easier, communication opens up and deeper relationships are found, nurtured and developed. Fortunately, we have millions of successful role models who have gone before us and are on hand for inspiration, as well as access to experienced educators and mentors to support our journey.
When I work with teenagers and young adults in the goal to action stage of career coaching, my starting point is, ‘Once you find that future goal, search for people who have done this before you.’ These individuals provide a very relatable vision for who we aspire to be; researching their successes and their mistakes, and how they handled both, is a great way to harness the experience of those further down the personal or career path that you are considering.
This is just as relevant for parents. Through my coaching work, I see first-hand the incredible value that the right kind of family support can have in opening up choices for teenagers. My work is not just to help teens and young adults find their way, it is also to help families find deeper communication and better ways to support each other. It’s why I believe it’s essential to meet with both the parents and the young adult as part of the research stage, to establish what help the parent/s also need to navigate this journey and build togetherness as a unit.
Seeing your teenager struggle is not how it has to be. If you need help, reach out. Family support is shared by the family you build, and that means every member feeling comfortable seeking ways to strengthen those bonds. You and your teenager may not always agree, but if they know in their heart that you mean well, and you can work on staying engaged with them, and finding the right message of love and support, then their family becomes their biggest rock.