02 May Supporting Your Teens to be Themselves
Are you raising a teen? How’s it been going thus far? If you’re anything like most parents raising teenagers, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll be experience some frustration, confusion, and impatience along the way – potentially all at the same time. If that sounds at all like you, welcome to the club! This article is intended to serve as part of your roadmap for raising healthy, independent, and authentic teenagers. This post will touch on the following topics: age-appropriate social/emotional development, strategies to help you engage with your teen, and most importantly, it teaches you to support your teen be who they were meant to be. Let’s dive in!
Adolescence can be a time of both disorientation and discovery. This transitional period can bring up issues related to independence and self-identity. It’s developmentally appropriate for teens to try on different identities in search of their true self at this stage in life. Most teens face a myriad of choices during this period of their lives related to school, sexuality, drugs/alcohol, and social-life. Peer groups, romantic interests, and appearance tend to naturally increase in relative importance for some time during a teen’s journey toward adulthood. With so many avenues for them to explore, there’s tremendous value acting as a grounding presence in your teen’s life. Ideally, you’d want your relationship with them to be strong enough that they’ll know, no matter what happens, they can always find their way back to your relationship. So many of their other allegiances change and shift at this stage of their lives, but family remains – once a parent, always a parent. Next, let’s consider how to engage with your teen to build that solid foundation.
How to Engage with Your Teen
What is your teen into? 1970’s rock band drummers? Sketching in notepads? Playing in ping-pong tournaments? Great! How lucky for you as a parent to have a teen that is interested in something outside of themselves. If, however, you’re finding yourself experiencing some anxiety reading this, I invite you to explore your personal fears and/or agendas about their interests, hobbies, and desires. Sometimes well-meaning parents push specific hobbies or extracurriculars that they think will make their teen “more marketable for college” or more “well-rounded.” In my experience as a therapist, teens tend to meet hobby-pushing (or punishing) parents with resentment, and ultimately shut parents out. Or, in some cases, teens might forfeit their unique interests in order to please Mom and Dad; a method to gain their approval.
An alternate approach could be to, instead, consider which qualities that you want to foster in your child. Confidence, independence, kindness, their personal uniqueness? Allowing them space to love what they love (assuming what they love is safe) is a sure fire way to foster the aforementioned qualities. To that point, consider learning more about what they love. Can they teach you how to use watercolors? Can you take them to see their favorite band? This suggestion is just one way in which we can be there for our teens.
Support Your Teen
Just like any other human, teens are seeking connection at this stage of their life. They’ll ultimately find connection (whether it’s through healthy or unhealthy means), as it’s paramount to their survival. Knowing this reiterates why it’s critical to be in your teen’s corner. Here’s how you can foster connection with your teen:
- Withhold judgement about their physical appearance. Have they bleached their hair? Are they slightly overweight? Part of parenthood is loving your children where they’re at – especially in the midst of identity-searching. Consider asking yourself “In the course of a lifetime, how much will the dyed hair matter?” “How much will my critical remarks matter?” “How much will the compassion I offered them matter?” Instead of judging, compliment their unique qualities, acts of kindness, and character instead.
- Listen to your teen while they talk with you. This means looking at them while they talk to you – even if they don’t look back at you – they can sense if you’re nodding along or if you’re really present. It also means checking back in about issues that they brought up with you. How’s their friend’s mom recovering from that surgery? How did everything work out with that girl in Floral Design class?
- Give them space – some distance is healthy for your teen. They benefit from some quiet time alone to think, read, or play music. Make sure they’ve got somewhere they can go to be alone when they need to be. If you have kids who share a bedroom, you may need to put some ground rules in place for siblings.
- Say yes and no. Teens need boundaries, so set them with love. They also need some freedom and space to fail and learn from their decision-making. Enjoy striking that balance!
- Find common ground. Relate to them. Let them know that they are not alone. Share some of your personal stories from when you were their age with them.
- Love them exactly as they are. They won’t always remember what we say, but will remember how you made them feel.
- Get to know their friends. Consider making your home a safe place where their friend’s feel accepted and loved. This communicates volumes to know that their friends are welcomed here. I work with teens who wish their parents related to them better. Teens often tell me about the warmth that they feel from the parents of their closest friends, who demonstrate love, acceptance, and kindness towards them.
Life is a journey, and thank goodness we have a lifetime to learn all sorts of lessons. In your effort to better support your teen to be themselves, I’ll end with this quote from Julia Cameron’s, The Artist’s Way.
“Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know that we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs. Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others’ versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else! When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if…
If we had known who we really were.”
Theresa is a Licensed Professional Counselor who earned her master’s degree from the Institute for the Psychological Sciences in Washington, DC. She has experience working in various levels of care including residential treatment, school, non-profit organization, and outpatient mental health settings. Theresa has clinical experience treating children, teens, adults, and families who struggle with PTSD, mood disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, self-injurious behaviors, low self-esteem, defiant behavior, impulsivity issues, and psychosis. She emphasizes an integrative and collaborative approach to therapy depending on a client’s unique needs and goals. She utilizes evidenced-based treatments drawing from the Internal Family Systems Model, DBT, CBT, and Mindfulness-based therapies. Theresa believes that change occurs through a caring and trusting therapeutic relationship cultivated by empathy, respect, and understanding. Whether addressing daily life issues or more severe psychological concerns Theresa believes each one of her clients is capable of flourishing in his or her own life. She focuses on increasing self-awareness, facilitating personal growth, and fostering enrichment in relationships with her clients. In her free time Theresa enjoys riding her bike around Chicago, trying new restaurants with friends, and working in the garden.