Time to Change How We Relate to Our Teens

Each stage of our child’s development requires a different set of skills from us. When they are infants they require a great deal attention and consistent affection. We need to assure our babies that the world is safe and that their needs are being met. Helping them to build trust, we are their windows to the world. As toddlers, our children rely on us to teach them limits. We reassure our 2 and 3 year olds that the world is safe, while encouraging them to explore and take risks. We exercise persistence and patience as our toddlers potty train. The worlds of our preschoolers (ages 3-5) begin to expand and they begin to play with other children. They are frequently like sponges, learning not only from us, but also from teachers and peers. We frequently find ourselves answering the “why” questions. In addition, busy-ness often ramps up during this stage: arranging play dates, enrolling them in school, and exposing them to learning opportunities, for example. Once our children are in primary school, they begin to rely on what they learn from their peers who act as a social barometer. What’s cool? What should boys be interested in? What should girls wear and whom do they want as friends? But, they also still need us as an anchor. They need our unconditional love and faith in them as people. This is often an even busier time for parents. Taking them to dance lessons or baseball practice. Arranging spring and summer camps. Signing them up for tutoring or swimming lessons. Carpooling them and their friends to soccer practice. We parents often feel worn out during this stage. But, our school age and pre-teen kids still seem fairly open to our feedback and affection. Though, this comfort may seem to fade a bit as our pre-teen gets older.

Then there are the teen years. During this stage, our teens are frequently forging their identities. Who are they? What’s important to them? What are their talents? Are they like their friends? Do they believe that the adults around them are in touch with what’s really going on? Our teens are often developing a world separate from their families. They often have their own interests, and may not want to spend time with family members. There are so many changes that are unfolding during this time. So many parents seem to not recognize their children at this phase, thinking, “Who are you and what have you done with my daughter/son?” So what is our role as a parent of an adolescent? We are challenged to maintain interest in our teens’ lives, while giving them space. Sounds paradoxical, I know. Sounds like it’s important to be a virtual contortionist. But, there are a few keys that others and I have found helpful. I believe that it is very important to learn flexibility and to be patient with your teen and yourself. In the face of conflict or confusion it can be helpful to practice mindfulness, deep breathing and compassion. It can also be helpful to remember what it was like to have hormones coursing through your veins. Remember what it was like to feel insecure about your worth, and deeply hopeful about finding a sense of belonging? When we can take ourselves back to that place of such vulnerability and possibility, it can help us to be there for our teens in a way that is supportive and patient. It is time to let our teens discover who they want to be. To be there for them when they ask, and to let them know that we love them unconditionally. Even though this can feel challenging, it’s a magical time that can be filled with joy and tenderness. It’s a stretch...but you can do it.
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