Loving guidance lets you be heard above the din.
The "good" thing about our Internet age is also the 'bad' thing. It dissolves all boundaries to information and influence. Truth, in the information glut, has become like liquid mercury -- rolling around somewhere but hard to put your finger on.
The genie is undeniably out of the bottle. Parents cannot protect their teens from all external influences, but we can help them be centered and grounded individuals. Peer pressure -- no longer a few kids at school -- is in the millions around the world. Of teens 12 to 17, 95% are online. Kids are growing up fast. They may talk the talk and even walk the walk, but are they maturing happy, with confidence and self-esteem?
Keeping the communication thread with your teenager resilient and firmly held by both ends is key to help your young adult navigate this big, often-confusing world. So before they get drawn into high-risk diversions, it's time to look your teen in the eye. See the child, within, who needs an adult to tell them its all going to be okay. And the very best adult for that is you, the parent. Here are some ideas so you don't get tuned out.
1. "You are perfect just as you are."
Within every single human being is a blueprint of all they might be. The essence of the confident, happy, creative and fulfilled adult came with the baby package. It just gets obscured under the layers of cultural and social or family expectations. Look at your teen with love and objectivity and remember the things they loved to do as a child. Help them find the pursuits that release their sense of joy and self-worth. Assist them to develop the skills that express who they really are. Resist the temptation to compare your teen to yourself at that age or any other individual on the planet. They are who they are. Perfect -- just as they are -- a unique human being in evolution.
2. "What you think and take action on becomes your life."
Young people often get overwhelmed by anxiety; making the 'right' choice, doing the 'right' thing. Our media culture feeds airbrushed, photoshopped distorted images of reality with the resulting message that no one is good enough... unless (fill in the blank). Heart pounding anxiety can lead to depression and a fear of taking risks -- even as simple as venturing into live social circles. Social media supports isolation, which can lead to a loss of self-worth and too often to the doctor's office and the ubiquitous prescription. Fear can be a runaway train of thoughts. Help your teen understand that they can choose their thoughts and to replace a fearful negative thought with a thought that brings pleasure and security. Our thoughts inevitably lead to our actions and utimately our life experience. Learning that they can and must choose their thoughts with care gives the greatest tool for experiencing an enriched life.
3. "There are no right or wrong choices -- only consequences."
The sooner you, as a parent, get your own head around this one, the easier it will be to support your teen in navigating the rapids of the many life altering decisions they face every day. Your role as a parent is to support your child to become a functioning happy adult. It is far more than maintaining damage control though the turbulent and emotional teens. Be open with your teen explaining that what they choose will lead them towards or away from the life they desire. But even if it leads away, this may be a necessary detour to deeper self-knowledge and future confidence and competence. Challenges strengthen us in ways that an obstacle-free path may not. Be there for your teen and be willing to respect their choices and hear their rationale without judgment. This may require a deep breath -- or two or three.
4. "What you are looking for is looking for you."
Young people fall into the trap that to be acceptable they must conform to the dictates of the group. Remember this group now numbers in the millions. And be aware that a lie perpetuated mindlessly by hundreds of thousands may seem a lot like a truth -- even if nothing could be further from it. There is no point arguing with numbers -- just offer your teen an alternative reality. And that is based on #1 -- you are perfect just as you are -- and what they are looking for in friends or interests or activities is out there looking for kindred spirits. Your open communication will help guide your teen away from destructive choices out of protest to constructive choices in self-fulfillment. Finding other people and pursuits that support their genuine talents instils self-confidence.
5. "I love you and I've got your back."
While the job of the parent is to prepare children for adulthood independent of us and hopefully able to maintain their confident individuality, it is the 'job' of the child -- especially the maturing teen -- to grow away from us. The teen years become the threshing floor of individuation -- the breaking away from parental expectations and jurisdiction to their own self-determination. Rather than seeing this necessary rebellion as behavior to be ratcheted down and disciplined - escalating rebellion or forcing them beyond your influence -- find ways of letting your teen express differences without feeling they are being wrong. And if circumstances land them in difficult times with tough consequences let them know that your love is not conditional and that you can face and surmount any challenge together.
There is no operation manual for parenting or special care instructions that come with the baby. And it is for a very simple reason. Each and every parent/child relationship is unique and immanent with limitless possibilities. Our children are our greatest teachers and our teens are often superlative taskmasters. As parents we are called out to prove our own maturity, authenticity, courage and wisdom. It's a heady ride and with an open heart it's never too late.
I'd love to hear from you -- please share your thoughts in the comment section below.