Parenting teens is tough. I often say that it is toddlerhood, round two, only this time your child can drive, date, go to parties, and make many life-altering decisions. However, this time, we are not and cannot be with them at all times. We can make very few decisions for them, and those we do make, they often resent. (This was probably true of our toddlers, as well!)
As parents, our deep fears are triggered daily. We want to guide them well, steering them clear of poor choices, protecting them from mistakes, especially the irreversible kind. We are most deeply triggered by our own teenage experiences. Our old wounds, regrets, mistakes, and joys are revisited with each age our child enters. We want to protect them from the pain we may have suffered. This fear and these emotions, unaddressed, often take over our responses to our teenagers and lead to disconnect and conflict in the relationship. In fear, we try to exert control. In anger, they become all the more uncontrollable.
What's a parent to do?
First of all, give love, patience, and a little humor to the parts of you that are afraid. Claim those feelings and respect them. They've been through a lot! Remember that these feelings are yours. Your teen is only the trigger, but not the cause.
Second, see if you can open to a shift in the way you view parenting your teen. This is a wonderful time to enjoy your child as she grows into new independence and "tries on" different ways of being in the world. Like her toddler-hood, she needs to venture out and take risks to grow into a healthy adult, but she still needs a safe-base to which to return when she ventures out too far or something doesn't go as planned. Our job, as safe-base parents, is to be reliable wise guides and witnesses to our daughter's journey. More than ever, we want to stay focused on connection, rather than control, with our teen. It is in this connected space that we can enjoy parenting again.
Safe-base parents know that:
1. As our children get older, we lose much of our true "control" over their choices.
2. We have to rely more and more on our influence.
3. Children and adults allow themselves to be influenced by those whom they trust and with whom they feel connected.
4. We feel connected to those who make us feel that they want to know and understand our experience and feelings.
5. When we feel understood, we are then willing to be vulnerable and therefore, be influenced.
As parents, we gain influence by:
1. Shifting our agenda to one of connection and influence and away from control.
2. Start with asking questions about thoughts and feelings first.
3. Validate (Oh, I see. It makes sense to me that you would feel that way. I might feel that way, too if...)
4. Explore what might be a barrier to the behavior/choice that we want from them.
5. Help them problem-solve (if they come up with the solution, they a. are more likely to use it, and b. have acquired an excellent life skill).
6. Let them know you are proud of their problem-solving and you really like being there for them.
Remember to enjoy your teen, it's going by fast!
Karen J. Helfrich, LCSW-C
As a therapist, mother, daughter, partner, and seeker, I am always on the journey toward a more peaceful, authentic life. I hope to share knowledge, insights, and the ongoing unknowns I find along the path...