Category: Teenagers

Parenting Struggles? Master the Art of Understanding

understandingWe all want be heard, seen, valued, and understood for who we really are. We desire unconditional love and acceptance. This isn’t debatable. We all recognize this desire, right? Isn’t this behind all the fairy tale romance stories and the cry for tolerance? See me, know me, love me, warts and all.

Maybe we focus so much on being understood that we forget to really understand those we love. Enter our children. Did you know they have that drive too? Kids need to be fully known, loved and accepted first by their parents. I’ve sat with people who did not experience this in their childhood and are dealing with the impacts this has left on them. The opposite of being understood is rejection. If a child doesn’t feel fully understood and accepted first at home, they may be sensitive to rejection in the future.

Now, I know we are put on this earth to guide, teach, train, and discipline our kids. Yet, I think sometimes we focus only on the externals and we miss what is going on in their heads and hearts. We miss their insecurities or their fears. Our kids are more than grades, athletic accomplishments, or artistic performances. They are more than their behavior.

We all want be heard, seen, valued, and understood for who we really are. Click To Tweet Maybe we focus so much on being understood that we forget to really understand those we love. Click To Tweet

If their behavior is rebellious, ugly, or emotional, they may be struggling in a way that they don’t feel safe to share with you.

If their behavior is always good, they may be attaching their identity to never making a mistake and this is a recipe for anxiety.

Behavior is just one component of personality. We are physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual beings. Behavior is the physical domain. It seems to me that as parents we focus a lot on that aspect of our children and less on the mental, emotional, or spiritual domains. Why is that? Well it’s much easier, right? But I know you want to raise a child who is confident in all areas of who they are, not just that demonstrates good behavior. And what if, by seeking to understand them in all areas you have an impact on their behavior.

I have witnessed many kids who have great behavior but are stressed and overwhelmed trying to maintain the “perfect” life. Just looking at their achievements and grades, you wouldn’t know how much they are struggling. But there are moments that it comes out. You see, the danger of focusing only on behavior, good or bad, is raising kids who focus on the external things they do or ahieve for their sense of value. Now I am not anti-discipline, this is needed  (ask my kiddos we have rules and limits in our home). However, relationship and understanding your kids comes first. How do you know what discipline will work if there is no understanding?

Let’s face it, feeling understood is extremely powerful.

Let's face it, feeling understood is extremely powerful. Click To Tweet

Pause and think of a time you felt completely seen, loved, and accepted for who you really are? Visualize the moment. Who gave you that feeling? How did they do it? What would you have done for that person? How did you feel toward them? It’s an incredible feeling right? Did you know you have the ability, the superpower, to give this experience to your kid? Can you see how it might change everything?

So how do you learn understanding and give your child the experience of being understood?

  • Get to know them. Use the phrase “tell me more”. Tell me more about  (what’s behind the tears, the emotional outburst, the difficult situation, etc.).
  • Validate their feelings. This sounds fancy but it is simply letting their feelings be valid and real, no matter what they are. Regardless of how you would react in the situation, their perspective and feelings are what they are. Let them be that. Tell them you see it and remember a time you felt that way. “You really seem happy about something, tell me about it” (see how I combined them both) OR “Wow, you are really upset about this, tell me more about how that hurt you”. “That’s so sad, I’ve been sad to and it’s hard”. Let it be okay for them to feel what they feel. Be a safe place for their feelings. This helps them learn to validate their own feelings as they grow.
  • Learn what matters to them and how they are struggling. Listen to understand and not fix things.
  • No matter what, start and end things with how much you love them.
  • Compliment effort not results. “Wow I saw your grades, it took a lot of hard work and I admire how much time you invest in your studies”.
  • Be real about your own struggles.
  • Spend time with them. Have fun. Be silly. Take a genuine interest in what interests them. (don’t ask me how much I know about all kinds of things that I wouldn’t know if it weren’t for my kids….star wars, star trek, magic the gathering, pokemon, legos, marvel comics, etc etc etc.)
  • When in doubt, ask them for guidance. Just be real

I challenge you to look at your kids differently this week, whatever their age. Seek understanding. What are their passions, who are their friends, what’s the latest thing they are interested in, what are their fears, or current struggles? Warning: don’t ask all that in one sitting. LOL. It doesn’t work. Understanding comes over time as you deliberately seek to take the time and opportunities that present themselves. I think learning about my teens and watching them grow into who God designed them to be rocks! I have to set aside my agenda sometimes but that’s okay…my stuff will be here long after they are grown. Let’s seize the moment when it comes.

Seize the moment when it comes to really understand your kids. It's your parenting superpower. Click To Tweet

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The Parenting Teens Shift, Part 2-Changing How You Parent

parenting teensLast week we talked about the unique challenges your teen is experiencing due to their brain development and stage of life. If you haven’t read it, please read part 1 before you go any further. Click here to read the part 1.

This  week we are continuing to look at four more parenting shifts that help enable us to better parent our teens.

Holding Space for Emotions: Teens are emotional. They flash to emotions faster because of the construction going on in their brain. Remember, you have a fully functioning brain and theirs is still in development. There will be perspectives you can see that they can’t yet. An emotional moment, isn’t the time to share your perspective or give your opinion. What they need instead is to have a safe space to be emotional, no matter how insignificant the problem may seem to you. Let them cry. Let them express their fear, anger, or anxiety. Reflect it. “wow, that is so sad”, “sounds like you had a day where you felt unseen or rejected”, “man you have a lot on your plate”. Resist the temptation to fix the emotion and let your love and patience comfort their emotion. Emotion heals emotion. Only after they feel validated and understood can they hear your perspective and opinion. Giving them space to process their emotions may be what they need to solve the problem on their own. This does not mean that you tolerate disrespect. Utilize the time out principle. We all sometimes need a few minutes to calm our emotions. If your child is disrespectful or out of control, let them take some time to calm down and then provide space for them to process the underlying emotion. When you use the time-out concept, reassure them that you want to hear them. You can say something like “I really want to hear and understand you but I’m not okay with how you’re talking to me, let’s take a brief time-out and try again in _____ minutes”.

An emotional moment, isn’t the time to share your perspective or give your opinion. Click To Tweet

Teens need a safe space to be emotional, no matter how insignificant the problem may seem. Click To Tweet

Encouragement: Teens in our culture have a lot coming at them. They are constantly under stress to get good grades, be accepted at school, and juggle all they do. The world tells them they are only valuable because of what they look like, the grades they get, or how good they are in their extra curricular activities (band, sports, theatre, etc). What they really need are people that accept them no matter what. Encourage them for who they are (their unique attributes and character) separate and apart from behavior or results. Praise their hard work, their effort, their creativity, compassion, empathy, etc. instead of their grades or achievements. Encouraging them for who they are instead of what they do builds their self-confidence.

Encourage them for who they are separate and apart from behavior or results. Click To Tweet
  • Connection: Part of the changes that happen in a teen’s life and brain as they approach adulthood is a shift from family to peers. They experience an intense need for connection with their friends similar to the intense connection they needed with their parents during infancy. Teens need good, strong friends and access to connecting regularly with these friends. The need to belong somewhere with people their own age is powerful. In our culture, teens connect through social media and texting. Have boundaries and limits on their phone but consider allowing this freedom so they meet this need. Encourage them to find good friends and allow time and space for them to regularly be with their friends. School clubs, sports or a good church youth group helps provide them safe opportunities to connect with other supportive teens.

    Part of the changes that happen in a teen's life is a shift from family to peers. Click To Tweet

  • Deal with your stuff: Parenting this way is hard. It requires us to deal with our own stuff and we all have stuff. This may be the most important parenting shift you make. Let’s face it, parenting brings out our own faults, sins, and  issues. What is the reaction you struggle most with as you parent? You can’t control your teen but you can control yourself. Controlling you impacts your teen dramatically. So deal with your stuff. Deal with the anxiety that comes as you see them making choices that might not go well. Deal with the irritation resulting from encountering an emotional teen. Learn to calm yourself in order to give them what they need. Deal with the fear you have of giving your child freedom because you like to be in control. Whatever your stuff is, own it, face it, and deal with it. Your teen needs to see you as a real person, with real struggles and flaws who apologizes when they mess up. This helps them learn to accept their own stuff and fosters a better relationship. What do you need to do to work on so you can be the parent your teens need?

    Parenting this way is hard. It requires us to deal with our own stuff and we all have stuff. Click To Tweet

Teens are awesome. They see the world in a different way and feel deep emotions. They love fun but also are deep thinkers. This isn’t a stage to be scared of but a stage to be embraced. The relationship you cultivate now with your teen matters. Give them the gift of making these shifts so you can help equip, empower, and prepare them for adulthood.

Teens aren't a stage to be scared of but a stage to be embraced. Click To Tweet

Need help or think your teen needs more help than just a parenting shift? Find a good counselor that specializes in teens. There is always hope.

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The Parenting Teens Shift-Changing How You Parent

parenting teensI’m going to spend the next two weeks talking about the parenting teens shift. No, that’s not the latest dance craze, nor is it a funny YouTube video gone viral. The parenting teen shift is the shift all us parents of teenagers have to make as we are thrust into the teen world. Over the next two weeks I’m going to share things I’ve learned from my personal experience with my own teens, my extensive time spent with the amazing teens at church, and the experience I’ve gained counseling teens and parents. Not sure if you need to make a shift? What is your answer to the following questions?

  • Are you getting attitude and resistance where you used to get compliance?
  • Do they challenge you and question your decisions?
  • Are you confused by the emotionality of your teen?
  • Wondering what’s going on in your teen’s world?
  • Struggling to relate to your teen now that they are older?
  • Do you find yourself frustrated and feeling unappreciated?

If you answered yes then perhaps you can benefit from shifting how you think about parenting your teen. First let me reassure you that neither you nor your teen are crazy. This stage of development is an exciting and critical one full of changes. How you parent during this critical final parenting stage (as in every stage) is important. However, the problem is that the mindset and tools you used as a parent during childhood doesn’t necessarily work in the teen years. Hence, the need for the shift.

Here are some important facts about teen development to keep in mind:

A teen’s brain is undergoing a massive reconstruction project as it is finalizing its growth. Click To Tweet
  • A teen’s brain is undergoing a massive reconstruction project as it is finalizing its growth and development. This means that as your child progresses through the teen years, their brain is actively being changed. As a result, their emotions intensify and their reasoning and logic abilities improve. They’re more self-focused which magnifies problems in their world. All of this is a result of where they are in their brain growth and development.
  • This is the final stage of parenting prior to adulthood.

Both of those factors impact the need for a shift as we are parenting teens. When a child is born we control everything about their lives. As they grow, we continue to provide structure, limits, and freedom based on their age and development. Eventually, they will launch into adulthood and make all their own decisions. Our job as parents during the teen years, is to balance freedom, structure, and limits so they can learn how to manage their own lives. This need for increasing freedom and increasing responsibility is what makes parenting teens so challenging. It’s the opposite of what we did when they were little.

Our job as parents during the teen years, is to balance freedom, structure, and limits. Click To Tweet Our job as parents is to help teens learn how to manage their own lives. Click To Tweet

To successfully make this shift there are some key things to remember. We’ll talk about 4 of these shifts this week and cover 4 next week.

  • Relationship: Focus on building your relationship with them and not just on their behavior. They are people, with unique personalities, thoughts, opinions and emotions. Get to know them. I know you may think you know them but maybe seek to understand them differently. What is their temperament and how does that affect how they engage in the world. Appreciate their differences.  What do like like, listen to, watch on YouTube or Netflix? Who are their friends? What energizes them? What are their struggles? Fears? Passions? Value their input and work to cultivate a real relationship with them. Have fun with them and laugh together. Get their input on the house rules and consequences. Be available to talk when they want to talk. Learn how to really listen to them instead of immediately telling them your thoughts on their situation. Try to identify what they are feeling and reflect it back to them. Most importantly be real with them. Let them know you have emotions, faults, and failures too.
  • Control: Too much control and rules during this time in their lives is dangerous. I’m not saying you can’t have limits. In fact, your teen still needs boundaries and limits plus you need boundaries in place for your peace. What I am saying is choose them wisely. Remember, your teen is in a different brain developmental stage. In order to “wire in” confidence in their decision making ability, they need to have the freedom to make decisions. Give as much freedom and choices as you can. A very restrictive, controlled environment results in a teens questioning their decision-making ability and frequently leads to self-doubt. They need freedom and reasonable limits so they get to practice making good and bad decisions. As they get older the freedom increases and the limits decrease. Too little control is damaging as well. They are not adults yet and need limits and monitoring. The key is to choose where you exercise to control wisely and always offer limits with choices and freedom.

    Teens need to feel confident making decisions so they need freedom to make decisions Click To Tweet

  • Freedom: Freedom is a huge motivator for teens. They crave it and desperately want it. It helps them develop competence and confidence. Even making bad decisions helps them because unfortunately we all learn best by making mistakes. If your teen never has freedom then 1) you are missing out on a great reward and motivator 2) you will notice confidence decrease and you might see an increase in anxiety/depression because they will begin to question their ability and your belief in them. There are many ways to give freedom:  giving choices, asking for their input and opinion, giving privileges, letting them own certain chores/responsibilities, and letting them manage as much life as is reasonable. They will never learn to do certain things unless given the freedom to try.
  • The Power of Solving Problems with Questions: For most of their lives they have come to us when they have a problem to solve and we solve it for them. Yet now they need to be encouraged to solve their own problems. Since their brain is under construction, sometimes they are very emotional or struggle to see the solution. It’s tempting to just give them the answer, it seems so obvious sometimes to us. DON’T. Give them the opportunity to think of possible solutions. This will help them feel more confident in trusting their voice and will help their brain as it is develops. Listen, reflect their emotions, and ask “what have you thought of doing?” or “how might you solve this?” or “I know you can solve this problem, what are your ideas?” This is HARD but is very helpful and empowering for them.
Give teens the opportunity to think of possible solutions so they learn to trust their voice. Click To Tweet

Stay tuned next week when we talk about 4 more parenting shifts. I know it can be a challenge to change your default reactions with your teens. If you are struggling significantly with any of these, consider getting help from a counselor. Look for the daily joys in the journey of teen parenting….the glimpses of the unique person God created them to be. Find good healthy support. We got this parents!


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