Common Hot Button Issues For Parents Of Struggling Teens

hot button issues

For parents who run anxious, worry about making major parenting mistakes and how bad the repercussions will be seems to go with the parenting territory. Not just in the moment, but for the long-term, the consequences of our choices can haunt even the most confident parent. There are no rule books for parenting, and we do it at our most exhausted, often without any substantial break, making it all too common for struggling teens to trigger these hot button issues.


Watching kids struggle is anxiety provoking

As uncomfortable as it is to watch, struggle is a normal and necessary part of growing up. It helps our teens learn about making decisions, who they are and want to become, and how they want to contribute to the world. (Just as our struggles have helped us.)

Yet, watching our teens deal with difficulty is hard and even more so for parents who run anxious. Not only is anxiety contagious, but in caring so much about our children’s welfare, we often want to jump in and resolve their struggles. However, doing so is usually not the best decision.

Knowing when to jump in and when to hold back can be confusing especially when your teen’s struggles ignite hot button issues. This is when it can be particularly important to tune into what’s going on with you (aka your whispering anxiety) to optimize your judgment.


Not knowing what to do can be confusing, and scary

The voices of other parents, friends, or family can drown out your own parenting instincts, making it hard to tune into what you’re feeling and what you really care about. Whispering anxiety is almost always a part of this messy situation.

Translating whispering anxiety requires thoughtful consideration and quiet time to understand where our worries (or instincts) are trying to steer us. This can make knowing what to do, or how to proceed, all the more confusing and frustrating in the heat of an escalated situation.

One technique to deal with your confusion and frustration, is writing out what you are worrying about. Doing so can help you see it, so you can work with it. Especially if you do not have a listening and supportive ear in your partner.


Feeling pushed to your limits complicates your coping

Another common parenting hot button issue occurs when you are pushed to your limit. It isn’t hard to worry whether you can handle or have the endurance to continue parenting through your teen’s struggles.

Think about when your teen is yelling, not listening, getting into trouble, or simply making your life more complicated. These situations can be overwhelming and leave you wondering if you really can do what needs to be done. This is when any number of coping tools can emerge, including ones that aren’t as helpful (avoidance, substance abuse, or for older kids, don’t ask/don’t tell).

Recognizing your limitations, and what you need to regain balance, can be critical to taking back control in these situations. Just as in flight safety, we must first secure our oxygen masks before helping others. Sometimes taking a break, and carving productive time for yourself, is just what you need to regain stamina.


Unresolved issues can be triggered from the past

Finally, hot button issues are always related, at least in part, to a parent’s individual past and unresolved feelings from it. It isn’t hard to be triggered by emotional situations that remind you of painful situations from the past. Teasing out what is in the present that deserves attention from what is in the past over which you do not have control, is critical.

Detangling the present from the past can be challenging.

However, when you first remember you are no longer the helpless child or adolescent you once were, you can begin regaining control of the present. As an adult you can access an array of cognitive resources you simply did not have in the past.

By harnessing these resources, you can forge a more adaptive solution to the current challenge while beginning to detangle the original associations that created your hot button issue in the first place.


For parents of struggling teens, dealing with hot button issues can at times seem to be a daily occurrence. It is natural to worry about making a parenting mistake that could have negative repercussions now and into the future.


There is nothing wrong with you if your buttons are being pushed – it simply confirms you are engaged. 


Remember, anxiety can be normal, and being worried is actually a good sign that you care. Even is you are pushed beyond your limits, worry helps you recognize the love you have for your child, and helps activate needed attunement and problem-solving.  Hot button issues and parenting worries can help you access the courage, focus, and motivation you need to keep up in your best parenting efforts with resilience, and love.


Looking for more help with parenting and anxiety?Learn more about my book Hack Your Anxiety and access free tools to help you manage the fear and anxiety going around the world today.

Dumlao on Unsplash

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD