By Casey O'Roarty
I felt very supported as a mom with young kids. I had mommy playgroups and mommy blogs and communities that shared tools and strategies for being with my littles as they melted down, had real needs, and big emotions.
I deluded myself into thinking that the teen years would be easy breezy because of the foundation I laid during their early years. But, then those years were before us, and boy, was I in for a loud wake-up call.
As my tots turned into teens, it felt as though the rug had been pulled from under me, and I couldn’t seem to find my footing. Where there was once connection, I felt disconnect and I desperately wanted to find my way back to them - to us.
What I have learned since those early days of transitioning is that the most powerful parenting tool I have isn’t anything I do, it’s more about how I chose to be.
The teen years are full of mistakes, pivots, contradictions, and explorations. Both parents and teens alike feel fear, insecurity, frustration, and disbelief at times. And while we are on the same ride, we experience it so differently.
As a parent, I have 40+ years of life experience to filter my teen’s decisions and choices, including my own teen years, which hey, let’s face it, was a time full of mistakes and growing.
And then there are my teens, who have this gift (yes, gift) of lesser life experience, at least in the enumeration of years on this earth. My kids are wide-eyed and curious, investigating to create their own truths and find their own way with an open-mindedness that, over time, often gets conditioned away.
This time of life is so potent for our teens, the ride of highs and lows causes them to feel everything so deeply. As they find themselves somewhere between a child and an adult, they are consumed with wavering hormones, swirling emotions, and imminent doom of permanence.
This is where it gets slippery for parents.
Our life experience tells us that this too shall pass, that what our 16-year-olds find earth shattering will hardly be remembered at 46. Our reminders of “this too shall pass”, with roots in love, often presents as a denial, dismissal, or undermining of their experience.
Our egos decide that once our kids have grown to look us in the eye, that they somehow have self-regulation fully worked out, and we place our shoulds on them … they should have it figured out by now … I mean, right?!
Our fear consumes us, literally keeps us up at night, as we create illusions of what may happen if our kids make a “wrong” decision and, it is this love that causes us to attempt to control our kids instead of deeply listening and being open to holding space for them to share what they are going through.
We can get so caught up that we forget to consider this simple question: What does my child need right now?
Just like when our kids are young, the practice of being present is the foundation in which connection grows. And, similar to our little ones, our teens speak to us in code through their behavior. To translate their world, it requires us to pause and drop into the moment, staying curious to their unmet needs.
The road to compassionate understanding, empathy, and active listening begins with releasing our assumptions, ego, and fear, and, in doing so, we can feel, see and hear our teens for the unique expression they are.
If you are a parent of a teen, my guess is that you are thinking, “Yeah but, what about their behavior? We can’t let them get away with it!”
I understand. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that the thought has crossed my consciousness too from time to time. Yet, when our teens are in their experience and having a hard time (you’ll know because your ego will go berserk and you’ll want to lay down the law), consider that what they need most is your love and presence.
In the midst of your teen’s tantrum, stay listening, and help them notice and navigate their experience. Being allowed to express their hurts - feeling seen and heard - is the exact thing that allows them to begin healing from their pain. The lesson will come once they are in clear-thinking capacity to do so, after the hurts are healed and their brain is regulated.
Showing Up Mindfully For Our Teens
Being mindful in our interactions with our kids starts with our internal experience, not theirs. As parents, we have hooks in our children, and when they are emotionally charged, we often find ourselves becoming charged too. So, I decided to put a few simple practices into place to help me manage my emotions before helping my child do the same.
- Body scan - First I pause, scan my body, and notice where I am holding tension.
- Breathe - I take three deep breaths, imagining each breath going to and softening my tension.
- Thought scan - I notice how the tension is showing up in my thoughts and actions. Am I feeling angry and yelling? Am I feeling frustrated and quiet?
Learning to manage my response allows me to be with my teen in their reactions. My child isn’t being a problem, they are having a problem - remember that from the early years? Yep, that still applies.
Showing up mindfully is quiet. There isn’t much to say out loud. Some simple validation that what they are experiencing is hard, confusing, frustrating - that is enough.
Showing up mindfully is encouraging. When we aren’t swooping in to fix or control, we are sending the message that we believe our teens can be with the experience they are having and that they will get through it.
This took a lot of practice. I still get caught up in my own stuff and miss the opportunity to show up mindfully for my teens, but even then, this practice allows me to recognize my part in our tough times, and make things right with them.
Our teens are in a powerful time of transition. Moving from child to adult. It feels weird and wobbly, and they really need us to be doing our work and show up for them, in all the messiness of the teen years, with unconditional love.
** Casey O’Roarty has been a Parent Coach, Positive Discipline Trainer, and facilitator of personal growth since 2007. Her online classes and one-on-one work has supported hundreds of parents to discover the purpose of their journey, providing them with the tools and mindset shifts that allow them to deepen their relationships and change the climate of their homes.