Raising a Teen Can Feel Like Being in an Arena with a Matador

Consider this scene

After many moves and years of hanging onto “keepsakes”, the Smiths are cleaning the basement in preparation for a garage sale. The two kids have been told that they can keep part of the profits if they help with both the preparation and sale of the items. The day before the garage sale, mom approaches her teen. “I have a couple important meetings at work today and I could really use your help finishing up the pricing of the things in the garage. When your sister wakes up, can the two of  you please try to finish that up so that we are ready for this weekend?”  Keep in mind that even though the kids have helped, mom has really done about 80% of what it has taken to get ready for the garage sale.  Her teenage daughter responds with, “Can’t we just work on it together when you get home? I am really tired and I haven’t seen my boyfriend for a week. I was planning on sleeping a little longer, catching up with some friends for lunch, and then hanging out at the pool with John for a couple hours. As you can imagine, this doesn’t go over very well. Mom is instantly annoyed, frustrated, and overwhelmed with all the  responsibilities she has that day.   At this point, mom looses it a little. She replies with, “All I am asking you to do is price a few things. With both of you working, it shouldn’t take more than an hour out of your day. I am glad to see you taking care of yourself, but it would be nice if you could contribute to the family a little more.” The teen responds with, “Maybe you should take care of yourself a little more. If you took time to get some rest and have lunch with friends, you would be a lot happier and more fun to be around!” Mom decides not want to engage in what was quickly becoming an argument. She walks away, telling her daughter she will check in with her again before she goes to work.

What comes up for you when you read this? This mom may be asking herself things like: When did my teen stop asking if she could do something and start telling me what she is doing?  How can she say such hurtful things to me? Doesn’t she understand what would happen if I  just decided to take the day off every time I needed to “take care of myself”?  Why can’t she see all the things I do for her?

Teens like the one above can be very egocentric.  To be egocentric is to think only of oneself, without regard for the feelings or desires of others.  This explains why teens see the world through their own eyes, basing choices on their personal priorities and limited experience.  As challenging as it can be for those around them, being egocentric is a necessary characteristic of identity development.  Typically, teens will move in and out of being able to see another person’s perspective, and they will practice this new skill on you!  Often times, it is not they they are trying to be mean or hurtful. Rather, they simply are not focused on how they are making you feel.

Parenting challenges us to look at situations for what they are and not take things personally.  It is in the very moments when we are tempted to lecture, ground, or holler at our teens that they need us to disengage emotionally, get grounded, and respond with thoughtfulness.  This following strategy may help:

  • Disengage: Engaging in an emotional dialogue with a teen is like being in an arena with a matador.  The matador tries to wear out the bull and the bull runs around chasing a red cape. Meanwhile, the bull gets more and more upset and exhausted.  If you are inclined to react, walk away and come back to the conversation when YOU are ready.
  • When you are ready, restate your expectation. Keep it simple and direct.
  • Describe, specifically, what needs to be done to meet that expectation.
  • Share how their contribution benefits their family or community.
  • Explain the consequences.

When you resist the temptation to get in the arena with the matador, you can be more skillful in your interactions.  Using situations like the one above as coachable moments allows you to make a positive contribution to both their sense of self and their growing understanding of who they are becoming. Sharing how their efforts make a larger contribution can help build positive self-esteem in teens. The word ‘esteem’ comes from a Latin word that means ‘to estimate’. So, self-esteem is related to how teens estimate, or regard, themselves. Experts suggest that it is through their contributions that teens develop skills and regard themselves as capable. They begin to recognize that they play an important role in reaching a larger goal.  It also helps them to be less egocentric as they begin to see how their actions impact people outside of themselves.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

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Your Teen Was Born Vulnerable & Imperfect

I have heard a lot of parents say, “Being a parent has taught me how to be a better person.” Why is it that our children are often the ones that push us to grow as individuals? What does it look like, to be a better person? Parents tell me that they became a better person because parenting inspired them to be more patient, authentic, observant, and aware of themselves. Many shared a commitment to self-improvement.

A friend of mine once said, “teens need us to protect them from themselves.” We enter the world of parenting with an huge sense of responsibility, and we learn very quickly that our children will look to us as models for what it means to be human. Teens need our guidance to stay safe, be thoughtful, live with purpose, develop work ethics, show compassion, and engage with others in a way that shows they can take responsibility for themselves and for their contributions to the world.

The following video is not just about parenting a teen, it is about what the author, Brene Brown, would call being whole hearted. She keeps it light and funny as she talks about what it is like to live life with courage and to accept that we are all vulnerable and imperfect. She reminds us that being a “good parent” is not about having perfect teens, it is about having teens who feel worthy. This video is longer than what I would usually post. However, I think the next 20 minutes will be well worth your time. You might even find yourself watching it more than once!

I would enjoy hearing your thoughts and comments after viewing this video. How did you relate to what she shared? How does all of this apply to our parenting?

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Give Me Five Minutes and Two Words: Therapy for You & Your Teen

Sometimes a little humor can go a long way! This last weekend, one of my counseling students shared this video with me and it made me laugh. It also made me think of raising teens. When I returned home, I shared this video with my own two teens. Jokingly I said, “Should I give this technique a try at home?” They both laughed and said, “As long as we can use it too!” I suspect there may be times in the future when we pull this one out of our bag of tricks just to lighten things up a bit!

On a more serious note, it is not uncommon for parents of teens to want their teen to just listen and do what they have asked them to do. Have you ever wished you could just say, “Stop It!” and your teen would just stop; stop leaving lights on in every room, stop hanging out with someone, stop leaving their bike outside all night, stop procrastinating in school, or stop coming home late. Of course every teen is different and every parent faces different challenges in helping their teen develop into a thoughtful and responsible young adult.

The problem is that as teens get older, they need to develop their own identity, one with the values, beliefs, and self-expression that is uniquely theirs. This helps to explain why “Stop It!” by itself doesn’t work. Sometimes we have to see certain situations as learning opportunities, ones in which teens can make their own decisions and live with the consequences. Other times, our teens need us to hold a hard, firm boundary and say “Stop It” or “Absolutely Not”!  Experts say that the most effective style of parenting is one that combines clear rules and expectations with being responsive, warm, and nurturing.   Using this style results in teens who grow into happy, capable and successful adults.

This may sound logical, or even easy to implement. The problem is that we don’t respond to situations like robots or machines.  In actuality, we are a lot more thoughtful about how we respond and we don’t always get it to right.  But, how can this be when the suggestions for “effective” parenting are so clear and our intentions are so genuine.   Let’s look at some of the things that influence how we, as parents, handle different situations.

  • We are emotional beings. Because our teens are one of our most important investments, we want to do it right. This desire can lead to being too harsh on our teens and then overly critical of our parenting.
  • We have experience.  We want to protect our teens from the things we have learned from our experiences.  This inhibits teens from having their own experiences.
  • We assign meaning.  We interpret situations and believe that our interpretations are the “truth”.  This leads to making assumptions instead of asking our teen to share with us.
  • We speak from our perspective.  We talk to them as if they have the same knowledge and understanding we have of the world.  We wish that we could impart our knowledge on them, while our teens want to figure it out themselves.
  • We want their love. We want a close relationship with our children. This can lead to protecting them, rather than letting them live with the natural consequences of their choices.
  • We get busy.  Sometimes when our teens need our attention the most, we are distracted or too busy to listen.  This can lead to having less communication, or even feeling disconnected from our teens’ lives.

The end goal is to be nurturing and responsive at the same time that we establish clear rules, guidelines, and expectations for appropriate conduct.  But, it is important to remember that knowing this doesn’t mean that it will be easy.   There will be times when we feel as though we have been too harsh or not harsh enough. Focus on “getting it right” as much as you can, and practice being patient with yourself. If you find yourself being too critical of yourself, just “Stop It!” Focusing on the past doesn’t allow you to move forward.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Are Teens Really Wild Animals?

My first test of being responsible for another living thing happened when I was in college. I received a Black Labrador Retriever from another college student who had purchased this full-bred, papered puppy before realizing that “Having a puppy is a lot of work!” His lanky body and big feet made him goofy and his playful free spirit made him extremely cute! As endearing as this 10 week old puppy was, he had a lot to learn about life and I had a lot to learn about being his mom! He had to learn to go to the bathroom outside, listen when he was called and refrain from chewing everything in sight! I had to learn how to teach him these things.

Looking back on this experience, I realize there are some parallels between raising a puppy and raising a teen. Both have a lot to learn about life, both get away with things occasionally because they are so cute, and both need consistent rules, boundaries and affection to grow up. One of the first things I did was get my dog, Cassidy, a kennel. He spent all of his alone time in this kennel; he even slept in it at night. This helped him learn not to chew or go to the bathroom inside. However, the true test of his learning would come when he got to stay home alone, without having to be in his kennel. It was at that point that I would know if I could really trust him. Don’t we experience this same realization with our teens? We can only know that they have learned and that we can trust them when we let them loose to face the world and make their own decisions.

When Cassidy was six months old, I decided it was time. He had graduated to having the freedom to roam the apartment for a few hours at a time. From this experience, I learned some pretty important things that can be related to raising teens. First, I learned that Cassidy liked his kennel. His cozy little den was comfortable, safe, and predictable. Most of the time, he was in his kennel when I got home, even though he was no longer restricted. Teens are not all that different. Teens need their home to be comfortable, safe, and predictable. Even though they may argue differently, setting rules and expectations for behavior and following through with consequences gives them a sense of security. If home is not comfortable, safe and predictable, where can teens go to gain a sense of control in the midst of their chaotic life?

I also learned that bored puppies make for naughty puppies. Cassidy stayed out of trouble when there were toys for him to play with and bones for him to chew. Teens also need ways to stay busy. As they get older and increasingly independent, they need an appropriate balance of extracurricular activities and leisure time. Every teen wants down time, but too much down time can be troublesome. It robs them of the opportunity to develop confidence and skills and creates a setting where they can make bad choices in an effort to fill their time.

Finally, I learned that Cassidy got in trouble when something new was introduced to his safe and structured environment. One of his first adventures out of his kennel was spoiled by a “care package” that my mom sent me. True to form, this package was filled with laundry soap, homemade cookies, and other goodies and necessities. Cassidy ate all the cookies, which obviously had a “negative” impact on his behavior. Who knew a 6 month old puppy could completely destroy a lazy-boy chair! Our teens are going to be introduced to new things all the time and there is no way that we can predict every scenario. However, we can pay attention, consider possibilities, and do our best to prepare them for the unexpected. Teens also need to know that their parents don’t expect them to know everything. They feel great relief when they know they can call on a parent for help and guidance. Our role is to be both available and approachable so that our teens can ask for help anytime they feel unsure or unsafe. I’ve known many teens that have said things like: “I felt so much better after I told my dad everything” and “I was relieved when I told my mom and was no longer alone in dealing with my problems”

It is absurd to say that raising a dog is just like raising a teen. We all know that the stakes are quite a bit higher with teens. Still, pets often provide the first context for us to learn about being responsible for another living thing. How we love and discipline our pets has an impact on the kind of pet they become. It may be fun for you to think about your experiences with animals, consider other parallels, and share a story with us!

How You Respond Can Influence Your Teen’s Behavior

Think back to when you first brought your baby home. There you sat, fully responsible for the livelihood of this child. You may have felt exhausted, or even a little overwhelmed by all that had changed. Yet, you loved this baby more than anything in the world and very quickly realized how much he/she enriched your life. I remember people calling my house, saying “What are you up to?” Often, my reply was “Just sitting here watching my baby sleep” I thought to myself, who would have believed that I could just sit and watch someone sleep for hours at a time!”

The following video is a profound illustration of the importance of parent-child interactions, and the impact that our responses can have on the actions and behaviors of our children. While this video shows a mom and her infant, there is an important message to parents of teens;  how we respond to our teen influences their behavior.

As parents, we try to do all we can to nurture and provide for our baby’s needs. When they smile at us, we smile back. When they cry, we try to sooth them. We play, touch, laugh, coo, feed, clean, rock, and tickle them. These interactions play a very important role in both their social-emotional development, and their attachment to their parent. It is through these interactions that they begin developing a relationship with you. And, it is through that relationship that they develop patterns that guide their perceptions, emotions, thoughts, and expectations in relationships they will have as teens.

We have very different interactions with teens.  We typically don’t coo, tickle toes, or rock teens, but they still need us to respond to them in a way that connects and builds relationship. And just like the infant in this video, teens may pull away, act out, or cry for help when we don’t pay attention and respond to their needs. They simply act out and cry for help in different ways. In fact, psychologists suggest that even rule breaking or delinquent behavior is often a wake up call for families that their teen needs something that he/she is not getting.

The following tips can help you pay attention and respond to your teen in a way that strengthens your relationship and prepares him/her to have good relationships with others:

  • Pay close attention to their emotions.  They will not be as transparent as infants. Give them lots of opportunity and room to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Listen with an open mind. Make a big effort to understand where they are coming from, even when you feel differently.
  • Understand that adults tend to use logic, while teens use emotion to explain their behavior. Often times, you must connect with your teen on an emotion level before they can even hear your logic.
  • Learn to identify the cues they use to show you that they need you. For example: While a baby may shriek to engage you, a teen may withdraw, play basketball, or draw a bath.
  • Realize that teens may not see or understand their own behavior. Help them to recognize what they are feeling and thinking by making observations and asking gentle questions like: “You look sad. Is everything ok?” or “I imagine you feel overwhelmed with everything that is due at school this week.”
  • Listen without trying to solve things for them.  It can be helpful to ask permission when you really want to offer your advice: “Can I share with you what has worked for me?” or “I have some thoughts about that. Would you like to hear them?”
  • Be mindful of your body language. Just like the mom showing no expression in the video induced a desperate response for her infant, your body language will communicate how you are hearing your teen. Showing sincere interests and not overreacting communicates trust that they can keep talking.
  • Show empathy. This demonstrates understanding and normalizes their feelings. Teens can feel guilt and/or shame when they feel like the only person in the world to experience something or feel a certain way.

Happy Parenting!

Positive Parenting Tips to Build Self Esteem in Teens

Just recently, I was talking with a 16 year old teen about what it was like to be 16. He said,

There is a lot of change at 16. You know it is hard to believe I am almost 17, and that 10 months ago I was just 15….there is a very big difference between being 15 and 17! A lot has changed in my life. I have gained some good things, and some bad things. I have lost some good things and some bad things. Now, I am deciding who I want to be.

What a great way to put it!  At 15 years old, teens are just entering middle adolescence.  High school is a new experience, thinking is becoming more abstract, and opportunities for new activities (both in school and with peers) are expanding rapidly.  By 17 years old, teens are gaining more and more autonomy and developing increasing amounts of responsibility for themselves and for their choices. They may be driving, working, dating, and juggling activities and school.

This period of time is a transformative time when teens try on new styles, build new friendships, take new jobs, and engage in new activities…..all in a search for understanding who they are,  who they are becoming, and who they want to be in the future. They are living out the consequences of their choices, however negative or positive they may be.  Even though many teens are reflecting on how their choices shape their identity, lack of brain development in the frontal lobe can make it challenging for them to think deep into the future.  As parents, it is important to remember that you can facilitate increased awareness by showing empathy, asking questions, and sharing your experiences with your teen.

Teens this age can act like adults one minute and kids the next, as they actively work to integrate all the different aspects of the self.  Throughout this process, teens need parents to use positive parenting techniques that help them build self-esteem and confidence.  Positive parenting is a psychological term that is used more and more to describe a form of disciplining children and teens. It differs from the more traditional sequence of positive rewards and negative punishments by putting a bigger focus is on communication, empathy, and understanding. Positive parenting can be done in conjunction with setting limits and boundaries that match your family’s needs and values. Below are 5 positive parenting tips that can help you connect with your teen:

  • Seek understanding: Try to approach situations from their perspective. Teens like it when you try to speak their language.
  • Talk with them, not at them: This means asking lots of questions, searching for clarity, rephrasing what they say back to them.
  • Get to their level: Sit together so that your eyes can connect at the same level.
  • Separate the deed from the doer: Show teens unconditional love by addressing the behavior without being critical of them as individuals.
  • State what you would like, not what you don’t like: Try saying “Feel free to take hourly breaks to check your Facebook” instead of “Don’t get on Facebook while you are doing homework!”

There is a consistent link between self-esteem in children and these kinds of parenting characteristics. Children with high self-esteem describe their parents as encouraging independence and being accepting of who they are as individuals.

Making a Difference in Your Teen’s Life

Parenting teens is so different than parenting younger children. Parenting young children involves teaching them about the world, giving them boundaries, and keeping them safe. The older they get, the more parents learn about who their child is and what their child needs to grow into adulthood. Home can provides a place where teens can talk about their day and ask questions in a safe environment. In that way, parents try to provide the scaffolding and unconditional love that allows their teen to take healthy risks and learn from their experiences.

Recently, a parenting professional by the name of Laura Kaine sent out a YouTube video called “You are Special” by Nick Vujicic. A few years ago, I saw another presentation of his. He was speaking to high school students about never giving up. In this presentation, he gave the message that if he could do the things he does with no limbs, they should be able to accomplish anything they put their mind to. This message leaves us with the reality that our teens must choose to put their mind to it. When teen are struggling to make that choice, parents have to try to stay in relationship and support their teen as much as possible.

Of course, parents are not unaware of the power of peers. Who your teen chooses to spend time with provides another context for information. Sometimes it is the parent’s role to intervene when that information is either inaccurate or creating an unsafe environment for their teen. It is important to remember that even though it can feel like your efforts go unnoticed, parenting is involves conveying unconditional love, providing appropriate boundaries, and having lots of conversations. It doesn’t mean that you are going to get it right all the time because we are all human. But, as much as possible parents can try to have an open dialogue with their teen instead of lecturing them.

Check out this video about the impact of parents …. it is inspiring! AND continue to remember that you really do make a difference.

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