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How to Apologize to Your Teenager

A Moment with Your Inner Child

When you were a child, did adults model how to apologize? And how to forgive? What memories come to mind when you think about adults apologizing (or not) to you as a child or teen?

Stop. Breathe. Feel.

Notice what comes up for you.

Personally, I’m noticing tension in my body– my chest and hands. I feel a little disappointed and even angry. A part of me is thinking, “What apologies?!”  Honestly, I don’t remember many adults apologizing to me as a child. Furthermore, I’m remembering teenage me. She is thinking “WTF?! Can’t they apologize too?!?!” In this memory, I feel angry and unseen.

When it comes to forgiveness, what I’m remembering this learning this word in religious studies classes; I remember learning about this concept in a way that positioned forgiveness as “right.” I also sense a sort of expectation; one in which, I am expected to forgive and that others “should” forgive me. Yet, I don’t really feel this word in my body in a deep way.

An Invitation to Apologize

Recently, I found myself in two interesting situations. In one case, I needed to voice feelings of frustration and disappointment about how a project went with a colleague. When I reached out and shared my feelings, they saw me, heard me, and apologized. As we finished our conversation, they said to me, “Thank you for allowing me space to learn and respecting yourself enough to say something.”

Stop. Breathe. Feel.

What does this situation bring up for you?

We both showed up with honesty and care, and we both left the conversation feeling good about being human together. Truly, this was an experience of growth and repair.

In the other case, I needed to apologize for sending a text in a very emotional moment. When they “called me in,” I felt defensive at first, but as I invited myself to really listen to their feelings, I settled in and recognized that they were hurt. Thus, I knew what I needed and wanted to do– apologize.

Stop. Breathe. Feel.

What does this situation bring up for you?

Because I paused and considered this person’s feelings, instead of focusing only on myself and my experience, I was able to apologize from a genuine place. In return, they were brave and open and accepted my apology. Again, this was a moment of growth and repair.

How to Apologize to the Young People in Your Life

When (not if) you make a “mistake” (otherwise knows as an “opportunity to repair”), apologize to your loved ones! Each apology is an opportunity to heal yourself, and to explore forgiveness with your teenager– what it looks like, sounds, like and feels like.

When your teenager is hurt or feels like something is a big deal, you have an opportunity for repair. When you leave a situation wishing you would have done or said something differently, you have an opportunity for repair. To me, a repair is a moment of connection and truth between you and a loved one. These 10 steps will support you in your next apology:

  1. Stop. Breathe. Feel. In a moment of self-reflection, name what you are feeling. Just as you practiced here today. Invite yourself to explore how you were feeling in the challenging or conflicting moment. Let yourself to feel the feelings.
  2. Give yourself a break. Literally. Allow yourself a few moments to step away from the “mistake.” It’s okay, and even helpful, to tell your teenager, “I need a few minutes to reflect. I’ll check in with you in 10 minutes,” for example.
  3. Apologize for whatever harm you caused. Be direct and concise so that the apology is what your teenager hears; this will also help you stay out of blame or defaulting to excuses. Simply say, “I am sorry for_____.” or “I’m sorry I _____. ” In some cases, it can be helpful to name the feelings you were facing in the moment of challenge. For example, you might say, “I was feeling _____.”
  4. Give your teen space to sit with the apology. After you apologize, allow for a pause. More specifically, if your teenager doesn’t say anything at all, give them time. You might eventually acknowledge, “I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
  5. Listen. Whether your teenager responds right away or needs a little time, when they speak up, focus on listening. Then ask, “Is there anything else?”
  6. Reflect back what you heard. Acknowledge what your teen shared by saying, “What I heard you say is…”
  7. Try a “do-over.” Next, you can ask your teen for a re-do; it’s always helpful to get their permission by asking “Can I try this again?” Then, say or do things through your refreshed lens of repair.
  8. Create a plan for the future. Consider how you would like to do things next time you and your teenager are in conflict. Specially, you can say, “In the future, I will _____.” Here, you will share a tool or strategy for how you’d like to handle the situation; you are focusing on solutions that work for everyone. This might mirror what you practiced in the “do-over.” Additionally, this can be an opportunity to ask your teenager what tools they might use. For instance, you might ask, “How would you work through a problem like this?” Allow your teen to brainstorm with you; I bet you’ll hear some great ideas!
  9. Ask your teen if they are ready to forgive. As you and your teen finish the conversation, you can again acknowledge your “mistake,” and check-in with them by saying, “I’m sorry I yelled. Are you ready to forgive me?” If the answer is no, return to #4 and give your teen space. You can let them know when you’ll check back in– in an hour, after dinner, or in the morning, for instance. If you say you’ll check in, follow through!
  10. Practice self-compassion. Through and after this process, you also have an opportunity to show yourself kindness and love. It might be helpful to remind yourself, “I am human; this too is part of the process.”

You’ve Got This!

Saying sorry can be tough. Admitting that a situation went differently than you would have liked it to can be uncomfortable. Yet, this repair work will support you and your family in developing trust, communication, and compassion. Finally, as you and your family explore apologies and forgiveness together, you may enjoy documenting your go-to supports, the tools that can support you in keeping your cool, with my support system map.

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