By Benzion Twerski, Ph.D.

“Don’t worry, Mom.” These words sound comforting. In this brief sentence, we hear a message of reassurance and responsibility. Right? Not so fast. To the hurting, fearful mother of an at-risk adolescent, this can be an ominous message. Among the intended messages can be the following:

  • If you would only see my behavior as without risk, you wouldn’t have reason to worry.
  • I am going to do what I want regardless of your objection. Your worrying will only add to the problem.
  • Here is a nice, caring statement from me. Now I am going for some self indulging behavior which I would prefer you ignore.
  • I am responsible and capable. Please withdraw from control since I am in charge.
  • There are several fallacies of logic, all of which need to be recognized. The following correspond to the above messages in order. Here is the adolescent’s point of view with the appropriate challenge.
  • “You need to see things my way.” – No – Adolescence is one qualification for confusion and reckless, erroneous thinking. It is also rare that an adolescent can comprehend long term consequences of behavior, in contrast to the adult.
  • “You have no control anyway, so don’t bother to worry.” – Wrong – Parents can and should worry when their children are in danger. The tragedy is that adolescents strive to break free from parental guidance, often at great risk.
  • “Here, nice doggie, have a bone.” – What!! – How rude it is to attempt to placate a mother with “kind words” that actually drive a dagger into her heart.
  • “Trust me.” – Why? – What is the track record? Hanging out, dabbling with drugs, being involved in proscribed opposite gender relationships, poor school performance (based on reasonable expectations for potential), and other risky behaviors do not generate trustworthiness.

It is impressive when we recognize that the same sentence spoken in two homes can carry two very different or even opposite meanings. The above example refers to a communication between the child and the parent, usually behind a closed door.

We can easily lose track of words said to the parent by an outsider, with perhaps all good intentions but with devastating impact. In order that we communicate effectively and without inflicting pain on others, we should try to assume their position and mindset so that our words are directed at their receptors that hear them as intended.