Tag Archives: teens

Parent/Teacher Teen Relationships: Widening the Web

photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons
photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons

They look like little adults.

They act like little adults (sometimes).

They demand to be treated like adults.

They aren’t little adults. They are teens, and it can be really confusing to decide how to interact with them from an adult perspective. We don’t want to coddle them because it’s important for them to begin solving their own problems and taking responsibility for themselves. But the truth is, they don’t have the benefit of life experience or the neurodevelopmental maturity to handle complicated situations yet, so what’s a parent or teacher to do?

There is a lot of talk about independence when it comes to teens, but I’d like to challenge that concept, if I may. None of us is truly independent. Can you replace your home’s water heater on your own if it fails? Can you purchase a car without a loan from the bank or credit union? If someone close to you is struggling with a difficult life event, do you reach out in support or let them deal with it alone? I’d like to think that what we really want for ourselves and our teens is to become interdependent instead – to know that over time we have built a web of trusted people and systems that we can rely on when we need help and to whom we can offer our unique talents as well.

So what does that have to do with adult-teen relationships? It requires us, as adults, to become very strategic with regard to how we interact with teens. It means that we take the view that our relationship is a dynamic and evolving one that allows for gradual changes in the balance of power. Over time, as our students and children show us that they are more competent and confident, we can allow them to have more say in how we interact with them and how they interact with others. We can ratchet down the tangible supports and help them determine when they need to ask for help.

It also requires us to acknowledge that a healthy web of relationships includes a variety of people who support, challenge, network and care for our kids. If teens don’t have a group of adults – be they teachers, parents, mentors, extended family, a boss at work – who provide these important pieces of the web, they will look to their peers to fill the gaps.  While peers play a vital role in our teens’ lives, they don’t have the life experience or emotional stability that most adults do, so it is incumbent upon us to check in from time to time and see where our students may need shoring up.

It can be incredibly difficult to engage in this kind of relationship with teens, since they are driven to push away from adults who have historically acted as parents or were in a position of power, but it is important that we stay connected and help them determine which of the other people around them can be trusted to help them become the people they strive to be. There is a great deal of research that demonstrates the significance of teen-adult relationships with regard to healthy social-emotional development and if parents and educators can find ways to have evolutionary, progressive relationships with teens, we can have an incredible impact on their ability to navigate the world with confidence and support.

Next Time: Tips on how to build a developmental relationship with a teen

Teaching Teens to Breathe

calm

This is so true. In fact, in my house, telling someone to calm down almost always has the opposite effect.

So what works?

Breathing. To be certain, I would never substitute a suggestion to breathe for a suggestion to ‘calm down.’ The message is the same – that the other person’s stress is making me uncomfortable and I need them to stop. What I’m saying is that if, in calm times, we can teach our kids to use their breath to calm themselves, they may remember that technique in the heat of emotion and choose to use it themselves.

There are numerous studies that show that breathing in specific ways calms both our physiological response to stress and the racing of our minds. Just type “breathing relaxation” into your computer’s search engine and you will find citations galore.

It sounds silly to ‘teach’ our kids how to breathe, but there are particular methods that work best for stress reduction. Here are a few:

  1. Abdominal Breathing – Many of us don’t realize that we tend to breathe with our lungs. Poor posture can keep us from breathing as deeply as we can and you can easily demonstrate this by slouching in a chair and paying attention to your breath. Your stomach might move a little bit, but when you straighten your spine, you can see how much more your abdomen and lungs expand. You can literally take a deeper breath when standing, lying down on your back, or sitting up straight.
  2. Slow, Deep Breaths – We all know that when we’re stressed, our heart rate increases and we take quicker breaths. But many people don’t know that if we consciously take slower, deeper breaths, we can actually decrease our heart rate and help calm ourselves. You can teach your teen to count to three or five slowly (one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two…) as they inhale and expand their abdomen and then hold that breath for a beat or two with their lungs full. Then count to three or five slowly as they exhale and wait a beat or two before inhaling again. During the pauses between breaths, they can hear and feel their heartbeat and after a few cycles, it should slow down significantly.
  3. Visualizing a clear mind with the breath cycles – As I exhale slowly, I like to imagine my mind’s thoughts draining out slowly. Generally, when I’m anxious or stressed, my thoughts race and spiral out of control. When I start breathing to relax myself, I pretend that my mind is a bathtub full of water (thoughts). Exhaling slowly has the effect of pulling the plug and letting all of the thoughts drain out and empty my mind for a moment or two. Often, I find that when I do this, the muscles in my face and neck relax and I almost instantly feel better.

These techniques can be taught to younger children as well. In fact, the earlier our kids learn how to calm themselves when they are feeling angry or upset, the more practiced they will be at it when they hit the turbulent adolescent years.

Building Family Connections: Who is Teaching Whom?

Many parents of teens that I meet have one common complaint – their child doesn’t seem interested in talking to them anymore. While it is a perfectly normal developmental behavior, it can seem quite shocking when your t(w)een becomes more and more isolated; spending time in their room listening to music, SnapChatting friends, or watching YouTube videos. I remember very well the abrupt shift from hanging out in the kitchen chatting with my kids while I made dinner (or even having them help) to them disappearing only to come out to eat, help clean the kitchen, and vanish again.

It’s also normal for kids to become less talkative, especially about important things, or to actively discourage conversation, and while it is common, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t worry parents from time to time. Even if you aren’t the kind of parent who wishes to know every last detail of your child’s inner life, you might still long for some sort of connection that doesn’t involve bribing them to hang out with the family. One thing that I have seen work wonders is asking your child to show you something that is important to them.

  • Maybe you have an athletic child and you are confused about the rules of lacrosse or ultimate frisbee.
  • Perhaps you’d like to know what it is about the music they listen to that is so compelling (especially if it just hurts your ears).
  • If your child really loves their art class or a book series or a particular TV show or YouTuber (yes, that’s a word), there’s a perfect entree into conversation.

Adolescents are used to feeling incompetent. They spend their days in classrooms and on practice fields being told what to do and how to do it. Often, when they get home, parents and older siblings give them more instruction and/or point out how they’re doing something wrong or they could improve. All of those messages can get really tiring, so it’s no wonder they retreat to activities and places where they feel accomplished or at least where they can relax.

As a parent, one of the most powerful things you can do is send the message that you’d like them to teach you something. Let your adolescent be the expert on whatever it is they love most and ask them to spend some time explaining it to you or showing you how they do it or waxing poetic about why it’s so freaking awesome. It won’t kill you to take an hour to learn how to play Pokemon Go or toss the lacrosse ball around in the backyard. You may not come to love the latest single by Drake or Beyonce, but you might come away understanding what it is about it that your child loves. And the more important piece of this exercise is that you will have let your t(w)een feel smart or strong or interesting. Especially if it turns out that they are waaaaay better than you at playing guitar or ice skating. And the next time you need to know what SnapChat is or how to use the new version of iMovie, you know you have an eager instructor in the house. If you let your child know that you value their interests and skills, they are more likely to come hang out with you from time to time. Try it and let me know what happens in the comments.

 

Important Gender Differences in Values and How We Can Help Teens Break Them Down

 

“If you change the way you look at things, you will change the things you see.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

Dr. Wayne Dyer was an educator and author of dozens of books on individual development and spirituality. He was well-known for his research regarding what motivates us and how we can live our most closely held values. Whether or not you ascribe to his spiritual beliefs, one portion of his research strikes me as something that educators and parents can use to understand their adolescents better and perhaps spur conversations with them.

He looked at what drives young men and women in our culture and discovered what I think are some incredible differences that might explain some common communication issues and give us a window in to just how much we are influenced by the underlying values our society tells us we should have.

The table below illustrates the top five motivating factors broken down by gender*.

Boys/Men                                              Girls/Women

Wealth                                                     Family

Adventure                                               Independence

Achievement                                          Career

Pleasure                                                   Fitting In

Respect                                                     Physical Attractiveness

What I find most interesting about these responses is that, for boys and men, all but one of the things on their list is determined by external factors. With the exception of pleasure, everything on that list depends on how other people see them. Looking at it this way, it’s no wonder that adolescent boys feel pressured to perform and appear capable and competent and wear that mask nearly all the time.

For girls and women, the first three items are naturally in conflict with each other. In our world, having a family and a career and finding independence are nearly incompatible, and while those factors are associated with internal motivation, the last two definitely show that women and girls have a keen eye on cultural expectations as well.

Armed with this information (and knowing that every person is different, so not all of these will apply to the teenager you might have in mind), we can begin to think about the kind of pressure our kids are under to live up to their ideas of what is or should be most important to them. Seeing kids through the lens of the cultural messages they are sent every day can offer us ways to talk to them about why certain things are important and whether there is a way to reframe their values to express their individual desires and interests.

One way to begin is to have them think about the times when they are so caught up in an activity that they forget about the outside world. What are the things that they bend over backward to make time for? What can they not imagine doing without – their guitar or sketchpad or the local library? What is it about those things that are so compelling – is it the time alone, the opportunity to be creative, the feeling of accomplishment, the challenge? After a while, we can encourage our kids to begin looking at the ways they spend their time and energy and slowly shift them to become more in alignment with their own personal values rather than being in service to some external idea of who they should be.

 

*I don’t generally deal in stereotypes, but I do think it’s important to look at trends and use them as a springboard for further exploration in to the things that influence us without us really recognizing it. I believe that these responses reflect some pretty powerful cultural mores and by acknowledging them, we can begin to change them.

Compassion and Selfishness

It is a common misperception that selfishness is the opposite of compassion; that if I am not actively helping someone in need, I ought to feel bad about it. And while it is certainly true that sometimes we fail to act compassionately because we are being selfish, that isn’t always the case.

Especially for people who tend to be very empathetic and rush to help others, and for those who are expected to offer assistance to most everyone all the time (in American culture, that is something often assigned to girls and women), we need to have a conversation about personal boundaries.

Many of us have found ourselves agreeing to something because we think we ought to, even when we know we don’t have the time, energy, or interest. Some of us repeat that pattern over and over again, pleasing others at the expense of ourselves, and one big problem with that is that if and when we decide to stop, people around us have gotten so used to our compliance that they get upset.

When we talk to our children about what it means to be compassionate, we have to include the idea of self-compassion and remind them that they have the right to make choices based on their own level of comfort (or discomfort) and their values, no matter what anyone else thinks. Often, we judge others for not being as kind as we think they should be, but without knowing why someone else is choosing to act in a certain way, we need to be careful to not brand them as selfish.

Encouraging students to define their own personal boundaries, especially when it comes to relationships with family and close friends, is a great way to empower them to be mindful about the way they treat themselves and others and a strong reminder that they are worthy of consideration, too.

Signs of Unhealthy Boundaries

  • acting against your values to please someone else
  • letting yourself be defined by others
  • sacrificing something for someone else and later resenting it
  • helping someone because you think you “should”
  • over-identifying with someone else’s struggle
  • feeling responsible for someone else’s feelings

Next Time: Three Questions to Ask Yourself if You’re Unsure Whether to Help Someone

“Why” is Your T(w)een’s Best Friend

If you’ve ever been around a toddler, you have heard the question, “why?” a lot. If you’re like most people, it drove you a little nuts.

Why is the sky blue? Why is my nose on my face? Why do I have to wash my hands?

As most of our kids go through school, they learn to whittle down their reasons for asking why, and learn that they can take some things at face value. But it is important for adolescents to turn that question around and point it at themselves. With more independence comes more responsibility, and they don’t always know how to make choices that are safe and healthy and mindful, but this one simple word can be a powerful way to focus their attention and help them make better decisions.

Asking why not only helps t(w)eens develop a sense of self-awareness, but it also reminds them that they have the power to control their actions and decisions. They have choices, and they are making them every day, all the time, whether they know it or not. They might as well understand why.

Without asking them to share their answers, I often encourage my daughters to get curious about the things they do. (Asking them to say it out loud is often a strong deterrent – they don’t want to be judged for their choices any more than anyone else does, and certainly not by their mother).

Why am I posting this picture online? What am I hoping to get out of it?

Why do I feel this powerful need to binge on sugary foods right now? What is going on in my life that is making me think this will help?

Why am I so upset at that comment Peter made? What is it about his words that affected me so strongly?

Developing a habit of inquiring about their motivations and choices can often shine a light on the inner voice that shames and blames and judges. And remembering that they have the freedom to choose how they react to any given situation can give them a sense of control over their lives that most adolescents are desperately seeking. As an added bonus, taking the split-second to ask “why” can offer enough space from an emotionally-charged incident that some of the emotion can dissipate and they can think more clearly.

After asking why, they may not make a different decision, but at least they will have gone through the motions to begin to be more self-aware. And the more we know about why we make the choices we make, the easier it gets to identify patterns of behavior.

Why Mindful Parenting is Important

Whether they would ever admit it or not, the way we relate to our children sets up patterns and expectations for their future relationships. As parents, we are our kids’ first testing ground for how they ought to be treated. Interacting with our kids in purposeful ways as much as we can (while allowing ourselves to make mistakes and acknowledge them in front of kids) is important for many different reasons.

We know that children watch us and learn. While we often wish they would do what we say, the fact is, they are more likely to weigh what we do against what we say our values are in order to see what they ought to do. The next time you are in a position to teach your child something, ask yourself what you’re modeling. What do we want for our kids, do we want them to find people in their lives who wield power over them or do we want them to be with people who respect them as equals? Would we rather they experience relationships as power struggles or as fertile ground for collaboration and an exchange of ideas? Do we want them to be with people who are always telling them how to do things or with those who encourage them to think for themselves, examine their own values and beliefs, and act on them?

Mindful parenting asks questions, teaches introspection, helps our kids figure out why they do what they do and how to do better without us prescribing it for them. It lets our kids know that we value them for who they are, not for how well they follow someone else’s rules. It encourages creativity, independent thinking, and sets healthy boundaries for relationships.

For more information on mindful parenting techniques, check out or information here or email kari@theselfproject.com to ask about forming a group in your area. Stay tuned for The SELF Project for Parents coming out in book format soon.

Tackling Tough Situations

We all bump up against situations that we find challenging to handle in our lives, but if we’re busy going in many different directions with competing priorities, it can sometimes be hard to slow down and process them without simply reacting in anger or frustration. Other times, we are tempted to shove those feelings aside and try not to think about it, but if it is something that is really bugging us, generally those issues will come back until we deal with them.  I’ve created a quick worksheet for kids to complete when they have a few minutes that can help them put their frustrations into context and alleviate some of the struggle. Click on the link below to access it.

Tackling Tough Situations

The first two boxes are a place to state what’s going on and are designed to bring some self-awareness to the issue by identifying the emotion behind the challenge. Then, as you move through the flow chart, you can make some choices about how to deal with the situation which gives you a sense of control and reminds you that you are in charge of how you respond to things that aren’t going the way you wanted them to. In the end, the user makes a conscious effort to either accept what has happened and move on or get help changing the situation for the better. I’d love to know when people use this tool and get feedback on how it works for them. Please comment if you want to!

I'm happy to share this flowchart widely. Please remember that was created by and for The SELF Project and, as such, it is copyrighted and should be given credit for its creation.

Helping Kids Combat Their Inner Critic

We all have an inner monologue, and sometimes it can be quite nasty – especially if we have just said or done something we wish we could take back. Teens and tweens are particularly susceptible to this kind of self-talk, especially since they are also hearing criticism (both constructive and harsh) from many different corners of their lives. When the adults around you are concerned with helping you grow up safe and strong and smart, they can feel as though it’s their job to point out how you can improve yourself. Often, this translates into self-criticism when they’re alone and it can be destructive if they don’t know how to handle it.

Here are three ways adolescents can learn to mitigate some of the constant chatter going on in their heads.

1. Practice radical acts of self-kindness – Ask your child/student how they would talk to a trusted friend who makes a mistake. Often, we are much more forgiving of others than we are of ourselves, but it is important to extend ourselves the same kindnesses we offer to others. Would you berate or belittle a friend who messed up or would you remind them that it’s okay to make mistakes and that things will be okay? Sometimes it feels strange to talk to ourselves in a comforting way, but I am a strong believer in the “fake it ’til you feel it” school of habit-forming.

2. Remember, you’re only human – Avril Lavigne sings a song called “Everybody Hurts,” and while it is about a sad breakup, there are a few lines that resonate with me every time I hear them.

Everybody hurts somedays
It’s okay to be afraid
Everybody hurts, everybody screams
Everybody feels this way, it’s ok

Even if you feel like the only person who has ever screwed up like this, you’re not. And it pays to remind ourselves that we will never be perfect and that we aren’t alone. Your child is special and unique, but not inhuman. Nobody’s perfect.

3. Call that inner voice out when it’s bullying you – It may seem trivial, but when you notice that your inner critic is shaming and blaming you, it’s important to notice. Stop for a beat and say to yourself, Dang! I’m really beating myself up right now! Often, that is enough to interrupt the lecture you’re giving yourself and pull you out of that place where you’re cowering in your own mind so that you can begin to stand up for yourself.

Self-kindness is important to learn at any age, but especially during the adolescent years when the brain is incredibly receptive to emotional onslaughts and when it can build resilient neural pathways. The earlier we can all recognize our tendency to be hard on ourselves and shift those thinking patterns, the better.