The Pressure of Being a Teenager

Teenagers know what pressure is!

Just try it, it will be fun.  Are you really going to wear that? Hey, did you hear that Joe’s parents are out of town Saturday. OMG! We have to do that again! Do it, or I’ll tell everyone what a poser you are!  You can’t say things like that if you are going to hang out with us.

Does any of this sound familiar? We were all teenagers at one time and have heard some variation of the statements above.  When you really look, you may see that you still succumb to peer pressure at times.  Ever show up to a formal party in casual dress? Ever say something and everyone silently stares at you like you are from Mars?  Ever have someone ask you to do something that you really didn’t want to do?

The difference between you and your teenager is that you have developed some skills and strategies for navigating pressure.  Your teen is learning and needs your help. Most teens will say that they feel pressure at varying degrees every day. Teens feel pressure to fit in with their peers, please their parents, do well in school, be active, have good manners, be popular, etc.  Tumultuous as it is, it is part of growing up and something we all experience.

Pressure from parents and peers can be completely different beasts. While parents generally love their children unconditionally and truly want what’s best for them, peer groups are often unpredictable, fickle, and take on a personality of their own. At home, teens can feel pressure to perform, have manners, do chores, and generally be “good”.  With friends, teens can feel pressure to be cool and fit in. What is normal behavior in one peer group may be unacceptable in another. Sometimes, these pressures conflict as your teen tries to navigate his/her way through the teen years.

Most people talk about peer pressure as the primary way in which teens influence one another.  This is because the general definition of peer pressure is the influence that a group of peers exert on an individual within the group.  Individual behaviors are an attempt to conform to what is expected of the group as a whole. In other words, teens do what they have to do to fit in.  However, a closer look at the research reveals that there are at least 5 different ways that peers can have a positive or detrimental influence on one another.

5 Types of Peer Influence:

1.  Peer Pressure: Directly and overtly persuading others to engage in a particular behavior.

For Example:  “You can’t be seen with that guy anymore if you are going to hang out with us!”

2.  Modeling: Exhibiting or demonstrating a particular attitude or behavior for others to imitate.

For Example: “All my friends are drinking at this party. Maybe I should try some…”

3.  Opportunity: Being somewhere that provides opportunities for prosocial or antisocial behavior.

For Example: “Looks like we are all alone until your parents get home at 9:00.”

4. Reinforcement: Supporting behaviors that fit within the norms of the group.

For Example: “You look great today. I love your outfit!”

5. Aggression: Using intimidation, force, or bullying to control group norms, and enhance or maintain individual or group status.

For Example: “Give me your lunch or I’ll dunk your head in the toilet!”

As parents, we want to help our teen navigate these kinds of pressures and minimize negative influences.  So, what can you do? 

  • Expand your understanding of peer pressure: Look for ways in which peer influence could be present in your teen’s life. Teens can be exposed to different kinds of influence depending on their interests, activities, hobbies, geographic location, etc.
  • Help your teen understand the range of influences: A teen may or may not be conscious of influence.  However, knowing what it can look like can make it more noticeable when it happens.
  • Teach your teen to be prepared: Help your teen develop strategies that minimize or remove peer influence. For example, carrying a cup around at a party can reduce or remove invitations to drink.  
  • Create escape codes: Practice code words or phrases that your teen can use with you when he/she is in a bind. Make sure your teen knows that you, or another trusted adult, can provide a ride whenever one is needed.   
  • Teach your teen to trust his/her instincts: We’ve all had that pain in our gut when “something is wrong”.  Communicate that this pain is a protective mechanism that should be trusted.
  • Be the final scapegoat:  If all else fails, tell your teen to blame you. “My parents won’t let me” or “We have family plans” work great!
  • Teach your teen to think about IMPACT:  Teens are quite capable of considering the “consequences” of their actions. However, teens usually see consequences as negative, personal, and close to home. For example, a teen may be more worried about being rejected than getting caught. Talking about the “impact” of their decisions creates an open conversation that carries less judgement and more awareness of how their behavior can effect themselves and others.
  • Focus on your relationship: Lines of communication are created when you pay attention and show interest in your teen’s world.  Not only will your teen tell you more about what is going on in their life, they will be more open to your advice. Be aware that advice seeking is not always overt.  Sometimes the best guidance comes from modeling, and sharing personal experiences and stories when opportunities presents themselves.  Remember, your teen is watching and listening to you more than you may think!

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

Advertisements

The Practice of “Still Lake” in Parenting Your Teen

How would you complete the sentence, “Parenthood is……”?

It is pretty amazing, isn’t it? Becoming a parent immediately changes you. From that moment forward, you put your child’s needs ahead of your own. Parenting is one of the few things that can make you strive to be the best person you can be. Sometimes, it is smooth sailing. Other times, it is the perfect storm. You may find yourself challenged by the very things that make you who you are as a person.  Your personality, past experiences, expectations, and hopes can get in the way of you having the kind of interaction you want to have with your teen. Sometimes we say or do things we don’t mean. Other times, we are simply stuck. When we feel lost, we turn to friends, other parents, books, health professions, or anyone else we trust to provide us with honest and helpful advice.  We do all of this in an effort to raise happy and healthy children.

In a conversation over dinner the other night, I was reminded how fortunate I am to have people with whom I can share this journey. Our conversation made me think of a symbol from my Tae Kwon Do practice. This symbol is called “Still Lake“, which means “strong on the inside, calm and gentle on the outside”.   It represents a person’s ability to live with grace and confidence. It is a reminder that one does not have to be “tough” to be “strong” and it is symbolic of being aware of oneself and the impact that you have on those around you. It is about having poise in your interactions with others.  This symbol represents being comfortable enough in who you are to be truly present with someone else.  Still Lake can exist in all relationships, with one of the biggest being your relationship with your teen. You can practice still lake in your parenting by focusing on: (1) having an empty mind, (2) removing the meaning, and (3) cleaning things up.

Having an Empty Mind: When you have an empty mind, you remove any filter that you have about how a particular interaction is going to go. Often times, we come to conversations with an expectation of what someone is going to say or do. This pre-existing filter can impact how you respond to your teen. For example, think about a typical interaction with a teen who struggles to do homework. If you are used to your teen resisting homework, you may come to your next interaction expecting him/her to fidget or lack focus. This expectation will guide both how you talk to and respond to your teen.  You react to what you expect, not what is really going on at the time. We can only be fully present with our teen when we remove the filters of what we expect will happen based on past experience.

Removing the Meaning:  The moment something happens, we assign meaning.  It is human nature and happens almost instantaneously. For example, someone says, “I can’t believe you said that,” and you make it mean, “She must think I am stupid for saying that.”  You might tell your daughter, “Those shorts are too short,” and she makes it mean, “My mom thinks I’m being sleazy.”  Your son may get bumped in the shoulder by a friend during passing period at school, and he makes it mean that person is mad at him.  The truth is, we can drive ourselves crazy trying to guess what someone or something means, and usually we are wrong. Like having an empty mind, being aware of this is important because it can dictate how you are around a person in the future. For example, a teen would probably be different to a parent’s comment about short shorts if she believed her mom respected her. Similarly, a teen would likely be different to a teen that accidentally bumped him then one he thinks is mad at him. Whenever you see your teen assigning meaning to something, help him/her to: (1) recognize the assumed meaning up front, (2) generate other possible options, and (3) focus on what is actually true about the situation, instead of perpetuating what they “think” is true.

Cleaning It Up: You know there is something to clean up when you feel like something was left unsaid, misunderstood, or taken the wrong way. Whatever is left undone between two people exists in the space between them. Let’s say that you hollered at your daughter about her short shorts while her friend was over. Outside of being embarrassed, she may be left feeling like you don’t think she has any self-respect. That feeling will go into the bucket of “what mom or dad thinks of me”. It may even become something that she takes on as part of how she defines herself. Cleaning it up involves a few steps:

  • Affirm your relationships.

“You are so important to me and I really want you to have what you deserve in life. One of those things is to be respected by others.”

  • Recognize your part of the conversation.

“I don’t think anything bad of you. In fact, I think your shorts are cute. Right or wrong, I worry that people will not respect you as much if you wear them.” 

  • Acknowledge the impact you had on her.

“I am sorry that I embarrassed you in front of your friend.  I realize I may have even made you feel bad about yourself for wanting to wear them. I don’t think your shorts say anything about you as a person.”

  • Ask if there is anything you can do.

“Do you want me to say something to your friend? Can I take you shopping for some shorts that we both like?”

Still Lake represents the balance between strength and vulnerability.  You have to be “strong” to have an open mind and remove all the meaning so that you can understand what is actually true about a situation.  And, you have to be vulnerable to say you are sorry and admit your contribution. Still Lake is a practice in self-awareness. It is not about being perfect; it is about being real. You will find that teens appreciate it when you are real with them. It makes them feel as though they too can be strong, vulnerable and real with you.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

Hearing Is Not the Same as Listening to Your Teen

It is just another Monday.  A mom takes her kids to school, does a few hours of work, runs an errand, and then heads back to the school to pick her kids up at the end of the day. She arrives at the junior high and her daughter is about 20 minutes late. Then, she rushes straight to the  high school to pick up your 9th grader. He gets in the car and starts barking! He is upset that she is 15 minutes late, annoyed that his sister is sitting in the front seat, and mad that he has to go to his aunt’s house for dinner that evening.  Mom recognizes that he is upset and says, “How was your day? Are you ok?” He responds with No! I am not ok! AND, I don’t want to talk about it!” Noticing how upset he is, she decides to sit quietly. Unfortunately, he keeps going. He starts drilling her about being late. “You are always late!  I should just take the bus to school!”  Then, he moves onto his sister. “Why are you sitting in the front seat!?! You know I sit in the front seat!” At this point, your daughter says, “I don’t know why you think you’re so special that you always get the front seat!” There is nothing to do but to declare silence in the car.  She say, “Clearly there are some bad feeling in the car. I think it is best if we don’t talk to one another until we get home.”  So, she drove the remaining 10 minutes in silence and everyone separated to different corners of the house when they got home.

What can she do now? Certainly, this mom could hear how upset her son was when she picked him up from school. How can she listen in such a way that she can understand why he was upset.   First she needs to check her intentions. In other words, why is she interested in listening to her son? To LISTEN BEYOND HEARING involves having one or more of the following intentions:

  1. Being truly interested or enjoying what the other person is saying
  2. Trying to understand someone
  3. Hoping to learn something
  4. Comforting or helping someone
Several, if not all of these intentions could be present for the mother in our example.  Now, lets consider what people do when they are not listening. Don’t feel too bad if you notice that you have had one or more of these intentions in the past. The reason this list exists is because everyone is a poor listener at one time or another. Often, when someone is NOT LISTENING, the person is:
  • Preparing for what to say next
  • Listening for a certain things and ignoring the rest of the conversations
  • Listening for the purpose of talking, rather than to hear the other person
  • Listening because of  obligation  (i.e. being nice, trying to gain their interest/affection, or feeling stuck – you don’t know how to exit the conversation)
  • Listening for the other person’s weaknesses or vulnerabilities
  • Trying to be right: listening for ammunition or weak points in the other person’s argument
Outside of having good intentions, it is important to think about how you are listening. Being a good listener is not about simply sitting in silence and nodding your head.  Effective listening involves using active listening skills. When you are using these skills, you:
  • Pay attention to body language
  • Paraphrase what the other person said so that you can be sure you understood it correctly
  • Clarify what has been said. This is similar to paraphrasing, but you ask questions like: “Did you mean…? Did you say…? Have I understood you right?”
  • Give feedback. After you have paraphrased and clarified, you can share your own senses, thoughts, feelings, reactions in a non-jugemental way.
Going back to our example, what could this mother say to her son.  She may approach her son and say something like, “I can tell your really upset. I am sensing that something happened at school. Is that right?” Her son may say “yes” and continue sharing. He may say “no” and begin clarifying. Or, he may need more prompting. Active listening often requires calmly investigating what is really going on.  “I can tell you are really sad by the look on your face. Is there anything that I can do to help you.” As is often the case, the boy in this story was not upset about his mom being late, or his sister sitting in the front seat of the car. It turns out, the boy failed a test that day, and found out that his ex-girlfriend [who he still cared for] was dating someone else.  These are things most of us would be upset about. Sometimes teens simply cannot fully recognize or control their emotions. In part this is because the emotional part of the brain is very active, while the frontal lobe that controls logical thinking and self-regulation is not fully developed.  The trick is to not take it personally, give yourself the time you need to be present, and then listen compassionately to what your teen is saying. Often, your teen will walk away from that conversation feeling truly heard and ready to move forward.

Stand By Teens When They Make Mistakes

Recently, I shared some bad news with a  good friend of mine and she sent me this video. The video served two purposes: (1) She wanted me to know that she would stand by me through the hard times and (2) she wanted to communicate how important it was for me to stand by others.  Her sharing was a real gift to me. Instantly, I thought of how important it is to “stand by” our teens.  It is much easier to stand by them when they do something great. However, it is in the times that they struggle, or make a mistake that they need it the most.  Check out this video, and then lets look at how we can stand by our teens and coach them through their mistakes.

Stand By Me | Playing For Change | Song Around The World from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

Most adults have experienced heart break, hurt a friend’s feelings, or told a white lie.  Some have gotten a speeding ticket, failed an exam, or lost a job.  The reality is that we are human, and we have all made mistakes.  Along with those mistakes, we have had to live with the consequences of our actions.  Think back to the mistakes you’ve made.  How did you feel? My guess is that  you knew you made a mistake and felt pretty bad about it.  In reality, we are often our own worst critics.

Sometimes parents forget that our teens are much like adults. They know when they have made a mistake and sometimes get defensive when someone points it out.   Teens can feel a range of emotions including sadness, embarrassment,  and disappointment in themselves.  They are often scared to tell mom and dad, afraid of the punishment, and worried about what people will think of them.

So, how can you coach your teens through mistakes? Let’s start with what your teen does not need. Avoid rescuing your teens from making mistakes. Rescuing does a few things. First, it  tells teens that they should not make mistakes.  This can lead teens to have performance anxiety or feel unrealistic pressures to be perfect.  When adults jump in, it also  communicates that they are not capable of taking care of the situation themselves.  This takes away opportunities for them to build self-confidence and learn from their mistakes. The other thing parents can avoid is lecturing teens.  Lecturing does not help teens, especially when they already recognize and feel bad about their mistake.  Often times, lecturing leads teens to shut down and stop listening.

Your teen does need to hear that you will stand by them.  Being supportive is not the same as excusing their behavior.  Along with the appropriate consequence, it is important to have a conversation with your teen about what happened, what they made it mean, and what they are going to do about it.  When you take the time to listen, you get an opportunity to hear what is really going on in their head. When they feel heard, they are more likely to be open to your thoughts or suggestions. Outside of being a good listening, your job is to ask good questions.  Here are some questions that can help you coach your teen through his/her mistakes:

  • What’s up?
  • Let’s talk about it? I’m all ears.
  • Why do you think this happened?
  • How can you make this better for you?
  • What do you wish you had done differently?
  • What is really important to you? Why?
  • What are you going to do about it?
  • Who might you want to talk to about this?
  • Please say more so that I can really understand.
  • How do you want to move forward?

You may be surprised how much head nods and words like uh-huh, yeah, I see, etc., will prompt your teen to keep talking. As they share, reflect back to them:

  • Can I tell you what I am hearing?
  • Did I understand this right?
  • I heard you say….. is that what you meant?

You may have some important things to share after you have listened to what you teen has to say.  Keep in mind that the idea is to help them deal with their mistakes without telling them what to do.  The teen years are a time to practice good decision-making and problem solving.  These questions may open the door for you to share your thoughts without sounding like you are taking over or giving too much advice.

  • How can I help?
  • Can I share a different way of looking at this?
  • Can I give you a suggestion?
  • I have some ideas. Would you like to hear them?
  • I have seen this before. Can I share some things that have helped others?

Sometimes, teens make mistakes that need a lot more adult intervention.  Try this if you want to provide more guidance but you still want the conversation to be inviting to your  teen.

I would like to talk about something really important, and I am not really sure how to talk to you about it? Will you help me work it out?

Finally, it is important to encourage your teen to apologize when he/she makes a mistake. Apologies are as much for the person apologizing as they are for the one receiving it.  When teens apologize, they are able to come clean for their mistake and ask for forgiveness.  It is in that moment that they can accept the mistake as  an event, instead of something that defines them. Not apologizing can leave teens making assumptions about what someone thinks, feels or believes about them. If a teen take these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs on as being real, they can become a part of how the teen defines him/herself.  It may be helpful for you to share a story or two about apologies that you have made.  This will help them see that they are not alone in making mistakes.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

The Search for Identity: Who Am I? What Am I Committed To? What Am I Afraid Of?

Identity development is one of the most fundamental tasks teens face. It is during this time that they are most likely to try on different aspects of their personality as they work to figure out who they are and who they want to become.  Your teen will grow and develop. Some characteristics will stay the same, some will change, and some will change and then go back to the way they were before.  As challenging and emotional as it can be, this is a good time to be sensitive to how difficult it was to be in a constant state of evaluating “Who am I?”

Your identity is a complex set of attributes that contribute to how you describe yourself and what makes you unique. Before you try to understand your teen, think about how you might answer the following questions:

  1. How would you describe yourself?
  2. What are three things that you are committed to?
  3. What are you afraid of and why?

Now, think of the world of a teenager. How would your teen describe him/herself? Putting some thought into this can give you new insight into your teen’s identity. Children typically describe themselves using specific adjectives. Seven year old Johnny may say, “I am kind and funny” and nine year old Suzie may say, “I am talkative and nice.” This changes in the teen years. Fifteen year old Johnny can see that he is kind sometimes, and unkind other times. He can tell you that he is funny when he hangs out with his guy friends and quiet around girls.  Similarly, 17 year old Suzie can tell you that she is talkative around people she knows and quiet in new situations. She can articulate that she is generally nice, but can be mean when she is tired.  How teens describe themselves is an aspect of their identity and one that becomes more and more sophisticated as their brains develops.

What three things were you committed to? What do you think your teen is committed to? This is important to consider because our identity is also built on the things we do.   A  teen that is committed to daily swim practice defines herself as an athlete,  a teen that looks for a job at 16 sees himself as hardworking, and a teen that volunteers at the humane society describes herself as an animal lover.  If you think about what your teen commits to, you can link it to certain characteristics that make  up their his/her personality.  Adults can relate to this. What is the first thing you tell someone that you just met?  Do you say where you work, tell them about your children, or mention your favorite activities? Like teens, these are parts of you that you are committed to and enjoy sharing with other people.

All teens have fears. They may be afraid of looking bad, saying or doing the wrong thing in a social situation, or doing poorly on an exam.  The impact of these fears can be compounded by their inability to distinguish their thoughts from the thoughts of others.  For example: If a teen thinks her hair looks bad then she also thinks that everyone else thinks her hair looks bad. All this thinking about what other people are thinking can be really exhausting!  Fears impact identity development by inhibiting a teen from trying new things and making new commitments that build competencies and esteem.

Here are some things to think about as you help your teenager go through this transition:

  • Pay attention to how teens describe themselves.  Tell stories that are rich with characteristics you have observed. Your teen may choose to add these to how he/her description.
  • Engage teens in conversations about the things they like to do. Help your teen explore new areas.
  • Remember that independence bread confidence. Find safe opportunities for your teen to express his/her independence and develop new competencies.
  • Make a big deal out of their accomplishments. Verbalize the things you see working for your teen in different situations.
  • Recognize that experimentation is normal. A big part of your role is to pay attention and reel your teen in with clear about boundaries, expectations and consequences.

Happy Parenting!

Shelly

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

Parenting From Fear Can Be Crippling

Years ago I attended a Tony Robbins conference. It was a pretty intense three days and over the years, one of the biggest things that stuck with me was the idea that fear is crippling. Imagine walking into a room with about 350 other people, and hearing someone say, “You are going to walk on fire tonight!” I waited for the metaphor, but quickly realized that this really was the plan. Even though I immediately turned to my husband and said, “I’m not going to walk on fire tonight”, I actually did.

Some would say  that success has everything to do with the scientific fact that our bodies have a relatively high heat capacity, and coals and hardwoods are very good insulators. From this point of view, a person with “normal” soles won’t get burned as long as the coals are the right temperature and he or she can walk quickly across. Others would say that a person has to be in the right state of mind to produce enough energy to deflect the fire.  They have to believe they are mentally prepared and capable. Regardless of one’s belief, our instincts tell us, “Don’t walk on fire or you will get burned“.   Putting that fear aside required avoiding negative self-talk, and breaking through limiting beliefs about my ability do it.  It required trusting that what seems true in theory was also true in practice.

If you are interested, here is a little clip on the controversy and intended effect of fire walking.

How does this relate to parenting teens?  Being the parent of a teenager, you have probably noticed that your teenager is more independent.  Both in how they act and what they think, they are searching to better understand themselves and their place in this world.  Letting them do this can be very scary for parents. They may try on different styles, music, or friendship groups. They may explore different classes or job opportunities. They may even scare you at times because they say or do things that seem contradictory to the teen you believe you know so well.   As alarming as all this can seem,  parenting from this place of fear can backfire on you! This is because fear often prompts parents to respond with anger, hostility, frustration or shameful undertones. This type of reaction from parents can develop into fear in the teenagers themselves.  In other words, teens that feel as though they are going to be yelled at or shamed may choose to exclude their parents from the circle of influence all together. They may lie, withhold information, or even act out to  show they have control.

The fire walking activity is done to teach people to put fears aside.  As hard as a may feel to put aside fears of getting burned, I think it pails in comparison to putting aside fears of things that can compromise the health, well-being, and safety of our teens. We know that our teens will increasingly make decisions on their own, but we fear:  Will they make a bad decision?  How will bad decisions effect their future? Will they be safe? Will their actions hurt someone else? One of the ways parents try to manage this fear is to  control the situation as much as possible by setting rules and boundaries that protect teens.  If we fear our son will drink at a party, we may forbid him from going. If we fear our daughter is falling in with a “bad” peer group, we may restrict her from spending time with certain friends.  While the intentions are good, let’s look at a couple ways this could backfire on the parents.  A teen may say,  “My parents won’t let me go to the party, so I will just sneak out at 10:30 and you can pick me up around the corner” or “My mom won’t let me spend time with you, so we will have to make sure we see each other at lunch and meet up at the mall as often as we can.”

Does this mean that we simply condone behaviors or allow our teens to do things we don’t want them to do because they may do them anyway?  No. Parents still need to do what they can to protect, teach, model, care for, and love their children. The real question is: If parenting from a place of fear backfires, what do we do instead? Forbes and Post, authors of the book “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control” suggest using love instead of fear to maintain influence.  What does this look like? Let’s look at the drinking party. Forbes and Post offer this type of response:

Honey, you are 15 years old and probably feel as though you are perfectly capable of making your own decisions. I can imagine that no matter what I say you are going to make the decision that you feel is best for you. I would like for you to stay home because I don’t feel that the environment will be safe and I will worry about you tremendously. That being said, I know that you are going to do what you feel is best. I do love you though.”

This response connects the teen with the parent at an emotional level and communicates love and concern for his/her safety.  The teen feels less defensive and less compelled to argue with the parent.   This puts the teen in a better position to listen, and consider what the parent is saying.  Parenting involves constant reevaluation of what is working and what is not.  While this approach may not work for every parent or in every situation, it gives you an alternative way to attack the rebellion, lying, or acting out that can happen in the teen years. Start by looking inward and identifying your own fears. Then, see what kind of loving conversations you can have with your teen about issues that are important to you.

Happy Parenting,

Shelly

Understanding & Motivating the Middle School Student

Picture this dialogue….

Daughter: “Mom, I can’t go to school today!” (Stomping down the stairs)
Mom:  Hugging her, mom says, “Why? Are you feeling ok?”
Daughter: “Are you kidding? Look at my hair….I can’t go to school looking like this! Can you imagine what my friends will think when I walk in looking like this!” (Tears pouring down her face)
Mom: “I am sorry hunny. You have to go to school. Is there anything I can do? How can I help?”
Daughter: “Don’t worry about it! Nobody can help this! I’ll just go. I can tell it is going to be the worst day ever!”

Has this, or something like this, happened to you? Has your child hit middle school? Whether your child starts middle school as a 6th or 7th grader, this is a time of massive and intense growth.  Their bodies are flooded with emotions, making them susceptible to overreaction and mood swings.  Because of the number of changes that take place, it can be a confusing, exciting, and challenging time for both parents and teens. One of the biggest things you will notice is your teen’s friendship network expands at the same time that they are adjusting to increases in school work.  While grades remain important, how their hair looks for the day can sometimes rival as the top priority.

To a teen, middle school can be a great adventure. To a parent, it can be very scary! Parents may worry that their child is pulling away from family and relying more on friends for company and support.  Parents may also begin to notice competing motivations between academic and social goals.  This is because middle school is the transitional period when children begin to develop social and moral competencies, as well as intellectual skills. Both are important, but for different reasons.  Making friends, being accepted, and gaining support from a group of peers is important to your child’s developing sense of self.  Learning study skills and building good habits with regard to school is important for lifelong learning.  While it is easy to compartmentalize the social and academic aspects of your teen’s life, it is important to understand that they actually go together. Research shows that those who feel connected to and supported by peers, parents, and teachers do better in school.  Part of our role as parents is to recognize this and help teens develop skills to balance social and academic commitments.

Of course, parents want to see their children do well in school and in social situations. We have all heard, or even said ourselves, “I want my children to have it easier than I did“.   While some studies have shown that the transition to middle school can make young teens vulnerable to declines in self-esteem and even grades, others have provided guidelines to protect young teens from potential setbacks.  Here are a few things to think about as you help your teen develop good relationships and navigate their new school environment. All of these involve engaging in conversations, listening, and trying to understand what motivates your teen:

1.  Instill an interest in learning. When middle schoolers can find satisfaction in the process of learning, they are more likely to persist in the face of challenge or failure. They are also more likely to feel good about school.

2.  Focus less on achieving something than on the process of learning.  Sometimes, middle schoolers can be motivated simply to achieve a good grade on a test or a high status position in a particular peer group.  This desire to achieve is often driven by expectations, values, and foreseen consequences (good and bad) that are placed on them, either individually or by those whose opinions matter. Pay attention to whose opinions matter most to your teen, talk to them about why those opinions matter, and encourage them to surround themselves with people who share common expectations and values.

3.  Understand that middle school is a much bigger world than elementary school.  This can make it harder for teens to build relationships with teachers.  Because these relationships are related to academic success, it is important that parents help teens find ways to connect with their teachers.

4. Don’t loose site of what it was like to go to middle school.  Reflecting and sharing what it was like for you can help your teen disclose their own experiences.  Tell them what you think. Even when it doesn’t seem like it, your teen is looking to you for guidance and support.

5. Stay connected to friends and the parents of friends. Develop coffee times, book clubs, or other social settings where you can get to know one another.  Share your values and expectations, and let other parents know you are invested in raising healthy teens together.

6.  Understand that it is sometimes through failure and setback that teens learn the most. Don’t rescue teens from their mistakes. Instead, be there to help them understand and learn from their mistakes. It is through their personal experiences that they will develop their own motivations.

Investing in our children is an emotional experience and one that can be joyful when things are going well and painful when we have to see them struggle.  Helping them to stay on track in school requires accepting their increased motivation to spend time with friends as a normal developmental process, while also helping them learn new strategies to find the balance between social and school commitments. Being able to find balance is a life skill that will serve them for many years to come. And remember that having a bad hair day is a really big deal, with perceived social ramifications. Sometimes it is best to say nothing. Empathize and be present with them, and don’t take their lashings personal. You are their anchor, their harbor in the storm of middle school.