What do we make of our teens? Are we confused? One moment, it is clear what’s going on, how they are feeling, and their direction. The next moment, it might be a different story.

With the flip of a switch, it all seems a bit foreign.

Do you ever encounter this? Do you wonder who came in and took over your child? Where did the little girl or boy that you used to know go? How about the one that was just in front of you a minute ago?

Welcome to the world of the teenager. It is a challenging time both for them and for us.

Let’s break it down:

Their brains are still developing. Their frontal lobes, the logical part of the brain is not fully developed (based on science) until at least 25. “The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so” writes the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Their hormones, yes boys and girls, are on overload, confusing for them for sure.

They are trying to navigate a social life, how social media works, academics, sports, pressures, relationships, and their family.

Wow, that sounds like a lot, right?

How can we help during this confusing and overwhelming time for them and for us?

What do our children need most during these teen years?

Here are a few ideas:

Compassion. Even when you don’t recognize your child, show up with compassion. What does that look like? As you speak with them, try to put yourself in their shoes. Remember that we were once children too, and life was hard, confusing, and overwhelming (although quite different from today’s world). They need our support, love, and understanding. Sometimes, just listening to them and reminding them you care can add a hint of compassion to their lives. Always remember, this is a confusing time for them. If they respond or speak abruptly, or don’t speak much, try to just be there to connect. Don’t read into it too much, unless this becomes the everyday norm. Stay close and stay open.

Space, to be alone and space to share. The first requires us to be present but not in the way. Allow them space to be. The second involves being with them and open to wherever the conversation goes, perhaps being more silent than we might like. Give your teens the opportunity to talk freely. Once in flow, who knows what you will learn.

Don’t take on their emotions. It’s not personal. It’s just life. There are so many pressures on our kids today. The best thing we can do is stay neutral, empathetic and supportive. When we take on their attitudes, frustrations or anger, we actually are doing our teens and ourselves a disservice. We are not helping by feeling their issues and emotions personally. Separate yourself from your teen. Just be there to help, listen and be curious about how they can move forward. Their experiences are not here for us to navigate or solve. This is how our kids learn and grow. Your job as a parent is to just be there for them, in a place of neutrality.

Be curious. Use the word curious to connect with where your child is in the moment. For example, I am curious to know how you feel about that grade, being benched from playing in the upcoming game, being invited to that party, liked by that girl, etc.? Open the door to more conversation by being curious about how your child feels. This is their journey, isn’t it?

Ask for details. Remember, all plans are soft until there are real, concrete details. My kids used to ask if they could go do something with their friends – unable to give me any details. I would simply say “I would love you talk about it when you have more details” (such as who, what, when, where, and why). Many times, the craziest of plans that they would mention would fall through. I never had to say yes or no because there were unusually no details – just thoughts that had not been ironed out. This is a brilliant technique. We don’t need to make decisions without information. Discuss the pros and cons with your teens when they come to you with something. This helps them to think through the situation and the consequences that might result from their actions. Remember, at this age, they are fairly impulsive. So, helping them think through situations is an enormous way to help them develop logical patterns

Encourage and support creativity by focusing on your child’s interests and hobbies. Even if you don’t really understand or like them, this is still an opportunity to connect and learn something new about your child and their interests. These discussions open doors to connect with your child in a way that makes your child feel honored. We all like to talk about the things that ignite us.

Validate your child’s feelings. They are entitled to feel how they feel without being judged or corrected. They can be disappointed or angry about whatever comes their way. These are their experiences through their lenses and they need to feel that validation. Don’t dismiss whatever they share. Show up with empathy and compassion, and perhaps reflect back what you are hearing – validating your teen by responding to what you are hearing, saying things like “that sounds challenging, annoying, frustrating, etc.” can have a great impact on how your teen processes their feelings.

“Honoring the important and necessary changes in the adolescent mind and brain rather than disrespecting them is crucial for both teens and their parents. … “Adolescence is not a period of being “crazy” or “immature.” It is an essential time of emotional intensity, social engagement, and creativity.” ~  Daniel J. Siegel, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain.

And by all means, be sure to take good care of yourself.

Your self-care needs to be a top priority, filling your energy tank so you can be more present for all the moments above. Self-control is a huge part of being with our teens. Check-in with yourself prior to engaging with your children. It is important that we show up for them without our own emotions spilling out. Do your own work to clear space, emotions, and heavy feelings so that you can be more present for your child from a neutral place.

Raising children, and teens, in particular, is not an easy task. There isn’t a handbook for each unique child in front of you. You must create your own handbook by getting to know your child’s needs, desires, interests, and challenges. This is how we show up to support the actual child that we have, not the one we think we have.

I am always here to support you in any way that I can.

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