I spend a lot of time talking with parents of teens. Often, I hear comments like, “I’m just not sure where I messed up,” and “Every time my teen does ____, I feel like it’s my fault.”
During the teen years, your child is facing tons of challenges and transitions. The teenage brain looks to the outside, to peers and the media, for ideas and models. Additionally, the teenage brain is still developing, particularly the prefrontal cortex, so impulsive behaviors and risk-taking can be common. So, yes, from time to time challenging behaviors or decisions arise. Your teen will make “mistakes” and test boundaries.
A friend and colleague, Laura, recently shared that she views the word mistake as “miss take,” an attempt that requires us to see what we want to change and do a “take two.” And so on. Sit with that for a minute… Each time your teenager makes a decision or behaves in a way that makes you shake your head, remember, they are growing and learning and need an opportunity to try again.
Now is a good time to stop and think about yourself as a teen. What kinds of decisions were you making? What challenges and successes were you facing?
Your teenager has been becoming themselves since the day they were born. They’ve been interpreting the world in their own unique ways since before they had words. And as teenagers, they may be experimenting with voice and power. During this time of greater independence, it is age-appropriate to explore how (and to what degree) they impact themselves and others.
Still, these behaviors can be triggers for parents. Many of my clients express that their teen’s undesirable behaviors bring up shame, disappointment, anger, and frustration. Moreover, they often blame for these behaviors or personalize them.
Stop. Breathe. Feel.
Check in with yourself. What’s bubbling up – emotions, thoughts, memories, etc? Keep breathing and just notice all that you are experiencing.
Switching the Story to One of Connection
As the parent of a teen, it can be truly powerful to practice self-encouragement. This involves practicing self-compassion, acknowledging that you cannot control your teen, and giving attention to “successes.”
I recently invited a parent that I’m working with to create a list of all of the ways they’ve felt successful as a parent. They had been feeling frustrated about their teen’s attitude, and moreover, they were taking the blame for the challenges their teen is facing.
Because our brains like to be filled with stories, and these stories will recirculate on repeat, we can help ourselves heal by feeding our brain intentional, loving stories. Instead of letting the snapshots of arguments and disappointing report cards and embarrassing calls from school administrators be the stories, what if you let yourself tell the stories of connection, celebration, and joy?
Again: Stop. Breathe. Feel. Notice the sensations and thoughts you’re experiencing now.
A Practice in Self-Encouragement
I invite you to take time to encourage yourself right now. Give yourself credit for the ways you show up and have shown up over the years. Get out a notebook and pen or your virtual journal to begin. For each of the questions below, you may choose to begin at childhood and work chronologically or consider a specific timeframe; do what feels best to you.
Make lists of:
- All of the ways you’ve loved connecting with your teen.
- Moments and experiences that have brought you a sense of pride. Joy. Celebration. Excitement. Peace. (You can make one list or separate these out based on emotions; feel free to change or add your own emotions as descriptors, too!)
- The ways you’ve been intentional about growing as a parent. What efforts have you made in earnest?
- The aspects of parenting that feel fun, natural, or easy for you.
Connection: The Result of Self-Encouragement
When you focus your time, energy, and mental space on successes, rather than perceived failures, you are inviting a connection with yourself and your true nature of love. (Remember: these are failures, these are “miss takes,” opportunities for you or your teen to try again.)
The practice of self-encouragement is a powerful form of self-care that supports you in being both patient and compassionate with yourself. It asks you to forgive yourself, and it helps you refill your tank.
Furthermore, with this practice, you are laying the foundation for connection with your teen. If the story in your head is playing a positive tone, this is the energy with which you will meet your teen. Giving your brain positively charged material to think about will impact the energy you bring into each interaction with have with your teens (and the rest of your family), and it invites you to forgive them too. Thus, you will have a greater capacity to connect with them and to invite them to connect with you.
I also have to note that this type of self-encouragement provides your teen with a model; it teaches them about self-love and slowing down to see the beauty in life. Your teens notice your behaviors, the tone of your voice, the ways you choose to spend time, and when you get intentional about parenting during this interesting time of development, your teen picks up on it. Truly, they are always learning from you. If you want to describe your teen as self-compassionate, model that for them!