The Jedi mind tricks of raising teens, part 3

Back in 2014 I wrote a couple of posts that I (admittedly pretty ambitiously) called the Jedi mind tricks of raising teens. Unlike the Jedi mind tricks in Star Wars, these tips are not about tactics to get the behavior that you want from the teenagers in your midst but instead ways of changing your own mindset so that you look at them differently and maybe understand them from a different angle, especially in tough times.

To review, here are the previous tricks (the full descriptions are posted here and here):

  1. Time travel forward to the week they are leaving home.
  2. Time travel further forward to watching them parent your grandkids.
  3. Time travel back to when your teen was 2, 3, 7, etc.
  4. Time travel further back to when you were their age.
  5. Adjust your expectations or reframe your role ("oh, I'm my child's external hard drive!").
  6. Think of yourself as a curious anthropologist.

For your consideration, here's another Jedi mind trick to add to your quiver (which is probably not where Jedis keep their mind tricks. Hmmm, I sense that the metaphor is falling apart...) ANYWAY.

I was thinking of the coming-of-age novels I love and how we consistently cheer for the protagonist, no matter how many immature, stupid, hubris-y decisions they make. I wondered what my own kids' coming of age novel would be like, which led me to the next Jedi mind trick of parenting:  Imagine that your teen is a character in a book, a character that you're cheering for, a character who's sympathetic, charming, spunky but flawed. Compassion.

More to the point, if you are the parent to the protagonist, how would you want to be written? I would love to take a cue from Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Mrs. Weasley (Harry Potter), Kate Murry (A Wrinkle in Time), Marmee (Little Women), Ma & Pa Ingalls (Little House books) and the Cuthberts (Anne of Green Gables). I think their common characteristic is that they seem to know the hearts of their flawed protagonist children--they understand their kids' sometimes outrageous flailing is essentially a feature of good kids figuring out life.  

I mean....who wouldn't want to be looked at with this kind of benevolent amusement/compassion? 

I mean....who wouldn't want to be looked at with this kind of benevolent amusement/compassion? 

Okay, what's your favorite coming of age novel? Which fictional parents are missing from the list here?

"How fascinating!"

Or: Jedi mind tricks of raising teens, part 2

Years ago my mom gave me the book How To Think Like Leonardo da Vinci by Michael Gelb. A lot of what he had to say about creativity, curiosity, whole-brain thinking and getting comfortable with ambiguity really clicked but one of the clearest take-aways for me was his encouragement to treat any failure or departure from the expected with curiosity. He recommended greeting these experiences (epic or otherwise) with the attitude and phrase "How fascinating!".*

Ten years later G attended a professional conference/retreat where Gelb was the keynote. As part of his presentation Gelb has everyone get up and begin to learn to juggle. G brought home his newly hatched juggling skills and sometimes could be heard muttering, in the middle of a torrential rainstorm of juggling balls, "How fascinating!" We've adopted it as a part-sarcastic, part-sincere (sometimes almost semi-expletive) phrase when things don't go as planned. But the sentiment, especially in matters related to family life, is actually pretty helpful.  Since writing about the Jedi mind tricks of raising teens, I've been on the lookout for other candidates. I think "how fascinating!" may come in handy. 

Think of it as playing curious anthropologist in investigating the native habits, rituals, and behavior of the modern teenager. We're on a quest of curiosity, assigned to gather information and understand this foreign culture. Perpetual socks on the floor? How fascinating! Never turned in the homework for that biology class? How very fascinating! I'll just go file that away in the teen ethnography in my head.

Okay, clearly this doesn't actually address the socks on the floor/missing homework dilemmas. The beauty of this tactic is that it's not about solving but understanding. Sure, it's probably just a rest stop on the way to problem solving but there are moments in this gig when a little detachment--a little scientific objectivity-- is a life saver. 

*Benjamin Zander and Rosamund Stone Zander use the exact same phrase in a chapter of their wonderful book The Art of Possibility. I'm not sure who captured it first so I'll give them each a shout out here. (But I read it first in Gelb.)

The jedi mind tricks of raising teenagers

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:

  1. 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.)  
  2. 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?
  3. 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. 
  4. 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?