You've probably noticed that I'm practically a card carrying member of the life-with-teens-can-be-awesome club. We hope the blog kind of gives that overall vibe. Teens tend to get a bad rap and an exaggerated reputation for chaos and disobedience; we really wanted to counter that prevailing image here.
Still. That's not to say it's all sunshine and daisies or to deny that it's tough sometimes. Into every family a little conflict must fall. Arguments. Door slamming. Power struggles. Truthiness. Etcetera. We've all been there, stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it, as the Irish bard poet Bono likes to sing. Sadly, there's no magic wand to suddenly bring kids in line. As the purported adult in the situation, it's more up to the getting myself together side of things; I've gradually realized that I really only have control over my own response in these situations. So along the way I've collected a few jedi mind tricks to play on my own mindset in order to ease the moment and turn the compassion dial up a bit:
- Time travel forward to the week before they're leaving home. Instant perspective for the irritations of today, I'm telling you. Whatever's happening in this moment--difficult and irritating as it is, won't really matter then. (Or at least it will remind you there IS an end in sight in the middle of those double-strength tough moments.)
- Time travel further forward to when you're watching them parent your grandkids. What do you want your teen to learn about parenting from this moment? What would you want him to say/do to those practically-perfect in-every-way future grandkids of yours in this situation?
- Time travel back to when your teen was 2, 3, 7, etc. and remember every age has its version of tantrums and developmental challenges. Teens just have their own tantrum language (which may or may not resemble the way they were when they were two). Look at your teen with the same kind of compassion you'd give a two-year-old in meltdown mode--or even better, an overstimulated infant. Aw, poor kid. She doesn't have the wherewithal to cope with everything that's being thrown her way right now. You may not have to swaddle her, pat her back and walk the floorboards for hours to support her in her misery but underneath the attitude or the misbehavior I guarantee you she still needs your support.
- Time travel further back to when you were their age. Every once in a while G will tell me some story about when he was a teenager. He's a wise, kind, even-keeled, loving guy so when he describes the rushes of sheer anger and rage that used to flood him in the teen years as the testosterone kicked in--I'm pretty amazed at the power of puberty. Then I remember the dramas and emotions and friend sagas I experienced but didn't always talk about to my family and I recall that a slammed door sometimes has nothing to do with family or respect and everything to do with the uncomfortable proximity of hormones and a rotten day. Think about your own teen years. What was your world like, socially and emotionally? How much did your parents know about what was going on below the surface? How clueless were you to the goings on in the family? I was so clueless, I couldn't be bothered to admire and marvel at the Grand Canyon. Exhibit A:
And this one, sullen and impatient on a fun family trip (as well as many undocumented moments I cringe to remember but try to use here with trick number 4):
5. Adjust your expectations or reframe your role. I heard a talk on teen brain development once. The presenter, a developmental neurologist, gave a lot of technical explanations about brain maturity and frontal lobes and executive function, ending with the conclusion that the brain doesn't reach maturity until much later than you'd expect--more like mid20s than early teens--and the frontal lobe is especially slow, which is the part with all the planning, motivation, ability to choose right and wrong and anticipate consequences. One mom in the audience had a lightbulb moment. Her hand shot up and she said "OHHHHH! So I am my teen's frontal lobe during these years!" Yes. Exactly. They might look like adults and talk like adults but they still need parents helping to give feedback and support while they're waiting for their adult brains to kick in fully. And somehow that biological explanation helps add a measure of compassion now and then.
What about you? What mind tricks work to give you a little compassion and perspective in those horn-locking moments?