Being a parent to a teenager is not an easy job. It requires self-awareness, to be clear for yourself where you are coming from. It is a time where you support your teen to prepare to step out into the world, and on their own. Teenagers know that they are getting ready for that too, and they begin to find out where they are different from you, the parent.
In their early years, it was important to them to model themselves after their parents, to imitate. Now their aim is to find out how they are different from the parents, what makes them, themselves. That involves trial and error in the form of trying on different personalities, different ways of being with others. This is not an easy time for parents, who often wonder where their lovely son or daughter went.
Here are 5 tips to help you during this time that can be challenging.
5 tips for challenging teen moments
Lower your barriers
How often do we have barriers up? We feel the need to protect ourselves when things are challenging. But barriers work both ways. They keep things out, as well as in. What do I mean by the latter? Having your barriers up makes it difficult for you to show how much you care.
When you are preparing yourself for a possible attack, you are not able to really hear what your teen is saying. You are already on the defensive. What if you let a possible attack just go by you? To draw from teachings of Aikido, one of the forms of martial arts, is to develop the art of not resisting, or, not putting up a wall is a surprise for the attacker and makes them stumble.
Be interested in them
Be interested in them, in what is going on for them and in their lives, yet do not be the inquisitor. Ask them questions that invite sharing and start some dialogue yourself, without bleeding all over them.
Allow for the fact that they may not want to talk at that moment. Let them know that you respect that and that you would like to know what’s going on for them.
Give them freedom
Know they are trying to find out who they are, so give them the freedom to do just that. I wrote a letter to my kids when they turned 13 stating that they had the freedom to experiment and that I would continue to keep them safe. Safe meant to step in when activities could lead to serious injury or death. A ‘scraped knee’ was OK for me.
In my work with parents, I found that during the teen years they often became either controlling or tried too hard to be a peer. Neither one works in the sense that it creates a good relationship based on respect for each other.
Allow them to gather experiences. Ask them if they achieved the result that they expected from their choice. If they did, that’s great. If they didn’t, what could they have done differently that may have produced the result they hoped for.
Criticizing does not give them the awareness that they create their life by making choices and then seeing the results these choices create. They already judge themselves and the critique, no matter in which form, just adds to that self-judgment.
If you want your teens to be successful in life, it is important for them to learn that choices create and that they can create their lives by making choices that support the kind of life they would like.
Be a role model
How often do parents say, ‘you should do as you are told,’ and, at the same time, do something completely different themselves. That creates confusion for someone who is trying to figure out how life works. Can you as a parent, be congruent in what you say and do? Are you willing to share experiences where your choice did not create the outcome you expected, and how you got to a different choice? Despite the resistance to you, the indifference they seem to show, they may observe you more closely than you anticipate.
Being a role model is so important. Your teen may be physically taller or bigger than you and they are not yet adults. You still have to be the adult in the relationship without being controlling, condescending or disempowering.
You desire the best for your teen, support that through kindness, empowerment and authenticity. It is not only possible, but also not as difficult as it is often made out to be.