How I am Being Raised by Teenagers: *the one residing in my home and the many sitting in my office.*
one of the greatest honors is to be let into the inner sanctum of a teen’s heart. it often takes so much time to build trust, to be permitted to support and hold space for what they may deem the “bad and scary” parts of themselves. they have grown me up (or I should say are growing me up.) the pandemic was hard on our babes. many learned to soothe themselves from the isolation and fear on steady dose of TikTok, a high sugar diet, vaping and other behaviors that cut them off from themselves (as did many full fledged adults.)
below is a crib sheet on what i have learned (so far) about what they want, crave & need from those of us who have been on the earth longer:
1. to be heard. to have an adult truly listen and be present for their fears. as parents, (hand raised high,) we want to fix, solve & offer immediate resources for their pain/struggle. that makes US feel better, more in control, more powerful….but disables them. we often have the urge to come in with a quick solution to “all the thing.” they isn’t helpful. they want us to reflect back and let them know we heard the music under the notes. they want us to crawl into their world and hear what it’s like to.be.them. and if needed, to ask them what THEIR ideas are on how to solve it.
2. to be believed. they want us to believe their experience. not to tell them how it’s not true from our perspective. this idea of being believed and how important it is to a teen has been reinforced from the brilliant work of Dr. Becky at Good Inside who frequently says the most powerful words to say to a teen: “I believe you.” we all know how nourishing it feels to be believed. this validates what they are feeling (not what YOU are feeling) has weight. they learn to trust themselves and their emotions. when we tell teens (often by our behaviors or immediate epic “problem solving” skills) that what they are feeling, experiencing, is not real, that we don’t believe them, they start to override their own knowing and mistrust it. this has detrimental effects later in life; especially when developing intimate partnerships.
3. frequent use of the words “say more” or “tell me more”: this can be tricky for parents when we are triggered by heavy or scary material (drugs, suicide, peer isolation, sexuality/porn, mental health concerns.) however, we learn so much more when we express further interest in what they are sharing. when we show up for big subject matter, we send the message that we are able to tolerate deeper, more difficult discussions. if we recoil, it says to a teen “this is as scary as I thought it was. even my parent cannot tolerate it.” with that said, we can be honest that we need a break or that we are not sure how to respond in that moment.
4. “i am so happy you came to me” or “I am so glad we can talk about this.”( this also comes from the work of Dr. Becky at Good Inside.) this says, “we are in this together. I am here with you. and we can talk about big things in our home.” talking to our kids like we would another wise human is crucial. as my colleague and friend, Bonnie Rooting Through Grief, said at brunch last week: “can you imagine if we talked to each other like we do to kids, we’d never open up, share or connect. if you came to me with a painful situation and I started to tell you how you shouldn’t see it that way, judged you for how you handled it, started to give you resources, talked over you….how would you feel.” shut down. alone. scared. personally, I am learning how much internal work there is to be done in order to fully show up for my teen in a steady, sturdy, stable way. many of the ways I was parented did not lend itself to parenting teens of 2022. I have to find ways to soothe, reflect and explore lost/hidden/triggered parts of myself, to be present, aware & engaged in parenting today’s teen.
i am not saying it is easy, but i am saying it is worth it.