Do you struggle to understand your teenager?

Understanding your teen

Try this exercise to figure out what your teen (or child of any age) is thinking, feeling, yearning for and needing from you.

Sometimes teenagers act in ways that truly mystify us. We want to help them, ask something of them, or appeal to their sense of fairness or logic, but nothing seems to be working. If you’ve tried to put yourself in your kid’s shoes and still can’t understand them, this exercise is for you.

1. Pretend like your kid is a funny zoo animal. You are looking at them in their cage, totally curious and perplexed, but without emotion. You decide you’d like to study this animal like a Scientist would. (This won’t work if you are in worry, frustration, self-pity or any emotion other than neutral curiosity).

2. Ready?  Ok, Scientist, the next step is to EMBODY your teenager. Like an actor getting into character, you are going to BECOME your child. Think about his posture, his voice tone, volume and articulation. Think about the words he chooses. Imagine you are in his bedroom (or wherever he spends the most time.) Look around as though this is your room, your books, your backpack, your clothes, etc. Imagine looking at his phone as though it’s your phone, what’s on there? Who is contacting him? What does he look up when he’s bored? Think to yourself “I am (my teenagers name)”

3. BE your teenager and name 3 adjectives to describe YOU as your teen. For example, “I am tired, I am stressed, and I am lonely.” or “I am uncertain, I am nervous, and I am happy”

4. Then think to yourself this sentence, “What I yearn for the most is _______” and see what pops into your head. Then do, “I am _____ (teen) and the message I’m trying to send my Mom is………”.   (If you hear your own voice coming in or any of your negative emotions, go back to step one.) 

5. Finish this next sentence with whatever shows up in your mind, “What I need most right now from my Mom is ………” Try it again with Dad, siblings, etc. If this is working and you are learning from it, try adding on “When I look ahead to my future I feel ……”

This is exercise is easy for me because as a life coach, my empathy dial is always turned up very high. Not all of us practice tuning into others on a regular basis so be patient with yourself if you find your own thoughts and feelings don’t go away that easily.

Remember that the primary need for all of us, including our funny, teenage zoo animals, is to be SEEN, HEARD and FELT. When all else fails, stop talking, look them in the eye and just listen. There’s a lot of information coming through those howls and growls. 🙂

The one thing stressed teens need from Mom and Dad

How helping fix problems and focusing on struggle can make it harder for our teens.

I had a hard time when I first became a Mom. Besides the normal, new mommy angst of “Am I doing it right?” I had a difficult baby. He had a hard time eating and sleeping. He needed constant movement, would get easily overstimulated yet easily bored and cried constantly. I needed support and I needed it bad. I joined as many new mom support groups as I could. One day, I found myself sitting in on a cement wall, alone, in someone’s backyard, watching my child, finally happy, sitting and playing with little rocks. The house was too noisy or crowded for my sensitive baby so I sat, exhausted, angry and lonely outside with the garbage cans and the dog poop. All the other moms were inside sipping coffee and chatting while their babies played happily on the floor.

Every once in awhile, a well-meaning Mommy would come out to check on me “You should come inside. He just needs to learn to deal with it. I’m sure he’ll get used to it after a bit.” A few minutes later, another Mom would come out, “You know what I do, I sleep with my baby, that way she feels secure and comfortable in the daytime.” After that I got, “What if you came inside and just breastfed him, then he’d feel comfortable and you could visit with us.” All the advice was valid and helpful but it just made me feel angrier and more alone. What I really needed was someone to say, “It’s really hard isn’t it. Some days just totally suck but you are such a good mommy. I don’t know how you do it all. Here’s a cup of hot coffee.”

I think we do the same thing to our teenagers. We underestimate the amount of stress they are under and we offer helpful suggestions and advice when all they really need for us to say “It is so hard and you are doing a great job. I am so impressed at how well you are managing. Here’s a cup of tea and a cookie.”

The more we can offer this kind of compassion and support, the better chance our teens have of developing their own compassionate “inner best friends” that encourages them through the tough times. Adolescence is the age where we start to develop our own “inner mean girl” who says things like, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I get it right?” “Nobody likes me, I’m stupid, ugly, fat, lame”, “I’m going to fail”, whatever. This inner mean girl will take charge and steer our life if we don’t get a hold of her and cultivate an equally strong inner best friend.

Kids learn by imitation so the best way to help them cultivate a kind inner voice is to hear us say it to them. In order to offer compassion to our teens, however, we first need to offer it to ourselves. Think about it, these kids of ours used to light up when we walked in the door, now they close it on our face! They thought we were beautiful no matter what we looked like, now they criticize our outfits, our hair, our singing, our choice of words (or is this just me and my kids?). Our babies have turned on us and that totally sucks! We used to look to their joy and exuberance to cheer us up at the end of the day, now we have to work hard to not be pulled into their negative spiral. No matter what we say, we are wrong. Our babies have done a 180 and it’s ok to give ourselves sympathy and recognize this is a hard phase for us, too.

Once you are feeling heard and validated, we can take a minute to recognize that the teen years are inherently stressful. You have this body whose hormones are out of whack, that is highly tuned in to other people’s thoughts and opinions, who can spot a fake a mile away yet are surrounded by inauthentic teenagers. Our teens have brains and bodies that are wired to be outside, moving constantly, listening to their own internal voice, yet are sitting on hard chairs, between 4 walls for 7 hours a day, listening to other people’s ideas. Today’s adolescents are swimming in perfectionism and sometimes, all they need to get through another day is compassion.

Our teens don’t always need us to fix their problems or focus on the struggles with our helpful suggestions, sometimes they just need to know they can do it on their own. “You are doing an amazing job, I can’t believe how well you are managing.” “Do you know what a mess I was at your age?” “By the way, there is nothing you need to do today. The day is yours.” “I try to worry but when it comes to you, I just can’t think of anything. I just know your future is bright.” “You have such a good head on your shoulders, I know you’ll be able to solve any problems that come your way.” “How did I get so lucky to get such a great teenager?”

It’s not easy to let go of worry and control and start trusting our kids to figure things out by themselves. That’s why I created “Leading Your Teen” teleclass.

Would like some support figuring out whether it’s time to lean in or let go? Click here and I’ll tell you all about this 5-week class designed for parents who want to worry less, love more, and create a more peaceful relationship with their teens.

“Smother” Nature and the art of letting go

Sometimes, writing a letter to someone that you never intend to send is the most therapeutic thing you can do.

Thoughts about my teenager….

I’ve been seeing signs that it’s time for me to let you go. You withhold affection when I try to hug you. You side with Dad on everything (even when we are saying the same thing!). You seem to want more privacy and even my presence makes you tense up. It’s hard for me to be demoted from my former status of “almighty-center-of-the-Universe-Mom”. It wasn’t that long ago when just walking in the door made you squeal with delight. Now I see things are shifting for you and although I know it’s normal and healthy, it’s still hard.

Your job, right now, is to separate from me. I get this intellectually. Even when I stop nagging about studying for your test or the latest online danger, I know you can feel my worried, hopeful, caring, needy energy. I remember when I was your age and how hard it was for me to give my Mom a compliment or thank her for all she did. When I was a teen, giving my Mom something that she wanted, felt like giving up a piece of my soul that I just couldn’t spare.

Letting go of you feels like giving up something precious. It feels like not caring about you. It feels like being a bad mom. I don’t even know where to start but I know it’s something I need to do. If I don’t, I think the next four years will be a giant battleground. If I hold tight to my control and expectations for your life, I will increase your stress and resentment, build a wall between you, your Dad and I, and make us all miserable. If I care too much about your grades, your social life, your activities, your appearance, your online presence, and your future, I fear you will sabotage your success to earn your freedom. I need to release you so you can figure out who you are meant to be, other than my child. It’s time for me to love more and care less.

I say goodbye to the tight bond we had, knowing it will never be the same again.

I say goodbye to the belief that I am responsible for your success.

I say goodbye to my expectation that you should be better than you currently are.

I say goodbye to my belief that I know what’s best for you.

I say goodbye to the idea that I can and should protect you from negative emotion.

I say goodbye to the idea that worrying and managing will keep you safe.

I give you permission to make stupid mistakes like every other teenager on the planet.

I give you permission to be insecure and imperfect, like every other teenager on the planet.

I give you permission to surprise me about the person you are becoming.

I give you permission to fail, if that’s what you need to do, so that your victories can be your victories and not mine.

This isn’t just your independence day, it’s also mine. 

As a thank you for the unconditional love you gave to me, I will continue to appreciate and love myself the way you showed me when you were five. I free myself from the idea I need you to be happy, in order for me to be happy. I allow myself to believe I am a good Mom, no matter what shenanigans you get yourself into. I choose to calm down and relax enough to access my instinctual intelligence, that way I’ll know when to step in if you should need me.

Thank you for the years of love and companionship you have given me. I love you and I release you.

Register for the free webinar this week to learn about living with teens without losing your mind.