First of all, you need to know that you are not alone. Navigating the sometimes tumultuous waters of the teenage years is difficult and challenging, but you are not the only one riding the waves of uncertainty, angst and fear. That being said, there are a few things that are important to know and understand to help support you in this journey, whether your teen is just entering this phase or about to launch out to their on young adult path.
1) Its temporary
I’m sure you’ve hear the term, “This too shall pass.” Well, this stage will pass. It will sneak up on you when you least expect it AND it will go before you realize it. This may not sound very comforting right this very moment, however, it can help to keep you in the moment rather than focusing on the seemingly never-ending road ahead. In both the positive moments and the negative ones, remind yourself that this stage is just a stage and it will not last forever.
2) Remain Curious
Adolescents crave to be understand, heard, valued and respected. They’re learning a great deal at this point both in school and about their world that can be overwhelming and exciting. It’s a time of identity formation and it’s normal for them to try on different personalities, interests and beliefs just to see if it’s where they want to be. However, for a lot of parents this can be the most challenging because what they might be seeing could go against values and beliefs they’ve tried so hard to instill since birth.
Curiosity goes a long way with teens and their felt sense of someone actually interested in what they think leads to powerful moments of connection and openness. When you ask, let it be a genuine question without assumption or accusation. You can use words like, “Help me understand,” or “Tell me more about that.” This allows your teen to feel like you really care and can set your opinions or beliefs aside to make space for their evolving sense of self and purpose. **And just to be clear, this does not mean your stance or boundary on an issue changes. It just means you’re listening from a place of interest**
3) When in doubt, ASK
Have you ever had a situation come up with your teen where you feel clueless about what they want from you or what they’re asking for? If so, just ask, “Do you want me to listen right now or help you find a solution?” Your budding adult might be feeling a lot but they’re not always able to pinpoint exactly what they need in those moments and its completely normal. Asking or clarifying expectations during these times can really go a long way in helping your teen be able to do this for themselves.
This also helps to empower your teen to notice times when she’s just needing a place to vent or if she’s really struggling with a solution, unable to find the way out and needing your help. I’ll also add, once you ask, it is important that you honor her response. If she asks you to give her space and you don’t, you can actually send the message that her requests aren’t important or that you really don’t care.
4) Engage don’t Enrage
This concept can be a transformational one and it’s composed of the few things we’ve already discussed. Looking for opportunities to engage your teen is a practice and takes unbiased observation. You need to take a few steps back, survey her affect and mood (as well as your own) and be open to the opportunity to engage her in the moment. For instance, she gets into the car after a long day at school and vents that her teachers are “stupid” and “incompetent.” Of course, you know this is not a rational statement, however, arguing this fact with her is not a moment of engagement, it will actually do the reverse and push her further down her road of feeling misunderstood and unheard, possibly escalating her even more.
Instead, engaging her in this moment could look something like this, “It sounds like today was rough.” Leave it at that. Pause and let her respond. It’s possible that she’ll keep ranting and it’s also possible that she’ll sigh and agree that it has been rough. Regardless, the message she gets from you in this moment is that it’s ok to tell you about her day; good and bad. She’s either stressed or upset about something and you’re job is not to disprove that or to make it better, your job is just to listen and help her feel understood so that she can let go of the irrational belief and make space for a logical solution. Once she’s softer, ask her if she would like help with a solution and respect her answer.
5) Remember you are powerful
Whether or not your teen will admit it what you do, say and how you act does matter to her. She’s watching you, taking cues and soaking up all the things you’re unsure she’s even aware of. Teens watch adults closely, they might reject a lot verbally, but internally they are like a soap sponge soaking up all kinds of information by watching what you say and do.
Because of this, it’s important to also model that it’s ok to be wrong and acknowledge you’re mistakes. Teens actually respect their parents for admitting their faults. By acknowledging your own faults you are in turn helping your teen internalize the ability to admit faults and take ownership of their wrongdoings. Think of these moments as a time to connect and you’ll notice your relationship deepen in really powerful ways.
6) Laugh more
It’s so important to remember to not always take yourself and your teen so seriously. Not everything is challenging and when we over focus on the difficulties or mistakes, we rob ourselves of the good too. Knowing when to lighten up can be difficult, especially if there is a lot of tension, however, recognizing this is the first step in making the shift to allow lightheartedness in.
Spend time doing things with no expectation or focusing on just being in the moment can help bring a spirit of play and laughter into the relationship. Try not to confuse this with being a “buddy” or “BFF” with your daughter. Think about it more as a time to fill up your emotional savings for when things get tough (and you know they will). Moments of laughter and enjoyment help cushion the challenging times by allowing us to remember that it’s not ALL bad. Plus, it can make you more relatable and strengthen the bond that remains no matter how tough life gets.
What would you add? Leave it in the comments below!