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Mini-Survival Guide to Teens

My own experience of the emotion/relationship rollercoaster called adolescents is what brought me to doing therapy.  I had a very positive role-model that helped me navigate and normalize my experiences and I knew how significant she was in me coming out the other end somewhat unscathed.  She brought calm validation during high emotions of fighting with best friends, and sat with me through the terror of my 8th grade English class finding out I kissed a less than savory peer.  

The journey of the teenage years are often thought about as pending doom if you are a parent.  It leaves many scratching their head and wondering what am I supposed to do with this?! How do I find the balance of keeping the relationship intact while holding firm boundaries with my teen?  Studies on the brain have shown starting around the age 11 the brain goes through a serious overhaul, restructuring everything from emotional reactions, sense to self, to controls. The good news is, the majority of the unpleasant behaviors your teen is engaging in are normal, acceptable, and healthy.  Here are a few tips to navigating those choppy waters with some grace:

Maintain Empathy- Do your best to maintain empathy with your teen and try to remember what it was like for you to be a teenager.  Times and situations are undoubtingly different, but at the end of the day you want to know someone understands you and is on your side.  Try relating with some of your struggles or mistakes and use phrases like, “I remember feeling like that, it was the worst!”

Be Respectful- For teens to give respect, they need to see respect in your interactions with them, and with others.  Its is important to model that positive behavior. At times you may feel they are being silly or dramatic, but they are dong their best to figure out emotions, relationships, and self-identity.  Never laugh, belittle, or dismiss how important things are that they talk to you about.  

Ask Genuine Questions- Teens are great at sensing when were grabbing at ways to verbally connect with them.   They tune out or get irritated as soon as we ask, “how was your day?” Getting more specific with questions such as, “Hey, I know you were worried about your test yesterday, how did it go for you?” or “You seemed pretty excited to go to the game last night, who won?” Using details of the situation, helping them see your interest in their lives. 

Allow Natural Consequences To Do Their Job- A very common occurrence is the power struggle between parent and teen.  We feel our authority is being challenged, and they feel their independence is being taken away, the number one thing they are trying to obtain right now. It is natural for them to fight back.  This is a good time to step back and allow them to get a feel for real life. As hard as it is, take you and your emotion out of the equation and ask them, “How are you going to make this right?” Offer guidance and empathy, but avoid taking on their problems. This teaches teens resiliency and builds problem solving skills!

Pause-  Teens have a great way of activating our animal instincts and sending us into a tail spin.  Whether it is feeling the need to react to them disrespecting you, or defending them in their newest crisis.  Take time to calm down, do some deep breathing, and remember they are just doing their job of being a teen. Most the time they are just as confused as you are about their behavior and they will appreciate the calmness you bring to the table.  

Lisa Damour is a psychologist who has dedicated her career to working with teenage girls, recently in her book Untangled, Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Stages in to Adulthood I read a quote by Anna Frued that sums this all up very nicely, “There are few situations more difficult to cope with than an adolescent son or daughter during their attempt to liberate themselves.”  

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