Mindful Relationships with Teens
Taking a step back and appreciating parenting a teen
As a parent, it’s easy to become impatient. I think it helps to remember how vivid a teenager’s world is, how their senses are in perfect working order. Do you remember what that’s like? They can see every blemish on their own face and on your face. They catch inconsistencies like hawks. Their world is a lot more black and white than it will be when they’re older and have had more experiences.
You may try to remind them of how complicated things really are, but they’ll usually see them as being relatively simple. There’s a holdover of early childhood, a memory of how things used to be, along with a vision of how they could be. The idealism that they’re developing as teens often translates as a very clear-cut position; arguments become extremely delineated and they tend to pounce on the inconsistencies that you, as a parent, display. It’s how they make sense of what’s being said; how they learn to communicate, to have a conversation and hold a position. For them, it’s practice.
With younger kids, it’s obvious when they’re playing make believe. They’ll have a party with a friend and “serve tea” and play act. With teenagers, though, everything becomes much more real. And as a parent, you might forget that there’s still a lot of play acting going on. Even though situations can take on a very real, weighty feeling because of the strong emotions that are happening, it’s still very much play.
It’s important to have that understanding and remember how vivid things are for teenagers. For example, they can see their friends’ physical imperfections very clearly, so they imagine that this is how the entire world views them too. It might be helpful to communicate that as we get older, we change the way we look at other people and the world. It’s not all about someone’s physical appearance. Where they’re at is a stage; everything is changing all the time and it’s all workable. A little bit of flexibility is what’s needed, and that’s something that we can model for them: flexibility, fallibility, try and try again. Plus humor. These are things that they can get from us. At the same time, they’re also getting a lot of input from their peers—especially at this stage.
It’s a natural process for your teen to pay more and more attention to what’s happening outside the family circle. It’s actually a biological imperative. There’s nothing you can do to change that, nor should you want to. But it’s difficult to watch your teen turn away from you and towards their friends. So part of your job is allowing it to happen gracefully and reminding yourself every day that it’s okay. “I need to be gentle with myself and to let my teen get guidance outside the family circle. I have to trust that they’ll pick up the right information and seek out the right models, and that they’ll know what’s true when they see it.” Teens have an incredible internal compass. They can see the bullshit a mile away, and it’s easy for adults to forget that.
You may wonder, “Why do they have a problem with such-and-such an issue?” It’s because they know that there’s a lot of disingenuousness in the world and, from their ideal perspective, it looks like garbage. They don’t want to be part of it; they don’t want to be told that this is the way things are. They’re up for a fight and well they should be. We can trust that they’ll find their way, especially if their compass is in good working order. We don’t want to squash that. We don’t want to tell them everything’s okay when it’s not. When there’s injustice, when people are being hurt, when beings are suffering, it’s really not okay. If we try to tell them that everything’s fine, they’ll say to themselves, “I can’t trust that source. I’m convinced that what I’m seeing and feeling is true.” We can trust how our teenagers are going to work with what they’re encountering because of that amazing compass. They may blow things out of proportion, but they’re not fundamentally wrong. They may veer off track, they may have to go from one extreme to the other, but that’s part of finding out where the middle is. And we have to let them, as painful as that can be.
Even when you feel that you have a great deal of know-how and wisdom to impart, it’s important to make it clear to your teens that you trust them. It’s by trusting your teenager that your teen trusts you. Communicate that you’re confident that they’re learning to make good decisions and finding out what they need to find out. You can also let them know that it’s painful to watch. Remember—it was painful to live through too! You’re sorry for the pain, but you know they’re going to make it through. You know that they’re developing the tools they need to get through the bumps and the roadblocks. And you’re there to support them. You can’t say it too much.
“I trust you.” These three simple words mean so much. And so, as a parent, when you feel your patience thinning, remember to let the wind blow through you and try not to take what is coming your way too personally. You are an integral part of the process and the best thing you can do is to let things blow right through you. When you feel yourself wanting to react, take a moment to decide if this is the right time, or if it’s one of those times that you can let the intensity of the situation pass through you and dissipate. If you don’t give emotions a hard surface to bounce off of, their energy just flows right through and the situation is diffused so everyone can move on.
That’s your role as a parent. You have some maturity, you have some distance, you’ve been meditating. You’ve seen that in your relationship with your teenager, meditation is an essential tool. You’ve developed the ability to see yourself from above, change course and have a different reaction. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for that.
To learn more, check out our course on Meditation for Parents here!