Oxygen Masks

In working with troubled teens these last 15 years, I think I have come to the opinion that getting parents help is just as important (maybe more important) as getting the kids help. It is an important life skill to 1. recognize our need for supports, 2. find that support, 3. lean into the support especially in crisis times. All three of these skills is important to teach the troubled teens I work with and we do try to start building those skills in early in treatment. However, all my work with building those skills is unlikely to make a big difference in their development of those skills if their parents are not able to model those same 3 skills.

Parents will always have a louder voice in the lives of their children than I will have. Parents who can’t even accomplish skill number 1 – to recognize their need for support, are communicating to their kids that we don’t need others. We are all fine like we are and we can fix ourselves. So why bring them to me in the first place? Parents who recognize their own needs for support, seek out support and lean into their supports communicate a very helpful set of messages to their children, such as:

  • You are not the only one broken, welcome to the human race
  • You are not in this alone, we are all getting help
  • It’s ok to receive help. I won’t look at you as weak or broken. I’m getting help too
  • Change takes work and humility, and I’m not asking you to do something I myself am not already doing

I encourage parents to communicate with their adolescents about their using these 3 skills. It will help the kids to be on the up and up of your counseling efforts, your talking with friends and mentors about what’s on your mind, the parenting classes or marriage seminars you attend, the meetings with your pastor, or the people you have praying for you, your Celebrate Recovery groups, etc. They don’t need all the nitty gritty details, but they need to know what you’re doing to lean into support and that you are not ashamed of it.

If you travel much you’ve heard the flight safety announcements. You’ve probably heard it so many times you have quit listening to them. But maybe we should listen one more time just to get a great parent coaching tip from it:  “Before trying to help others, put your own oxygen mask on first.” How selfish! Or is it? Won’t we be able to help others better if we take care of ourselves first? We can stay conscious and think clearer if we are wearing our own oxygen mask while helping others get their masks on. Some people will be able to figure it out just by watching your example. Why is this so hard to relate to parenting and making sure we get support ourselves first? Partly because of the same reason it would be hard to actually put our own mask on before our child in the event of an actual airplane emergency. But we know that a clear thinking decision is better than a panic/fear based decision any day.

Don’t make the fear/emotion/panic based decision to ask your child to lean into support when you yourself aren’t doing it. Start now with the 3 skills.


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