I was just listening to another parent’s story of an out-of-control, unrecognizable teenager.
It seems as if one day our kids are grinning lovingly at us, and the next they are sullen, slamming-the-door sorts of beasts. They don’t do what you ask them to, and they want to do things you don’t want them to do.
You yourself go from the wizard who could kiss the boo-boo better to an idiot, or worse.
Yeah, things get crazy in the teen years.
It’s not just hormones. If you can remember (heh), our teen years were when we began to find our independence, and learned to stand on our own two feet. We became more mobile, learned to drive and could go places without guardians, woohoo. Older, we could stay out later. We even longed to experiment with increasingly powerful situations and substances to find out who we were.
Adolescence and the process of independence from parents is a crucial part of our development as humans, one that I believe very few adults have completed well. I swear 90% of healing sessions I do work on issues of self-power not resolved by the end of adolescence. How can we help our kids not need healers for these issues?
What Makes the Difference?
I am writing about this all because we’ve got a high school senior and a high school junior. When they were little, I used to joke with my husband, “Oh they’re cute now, but one day they will be slamming doors at us, screaming, ‘I hate you I hate you I hate you!’”
It seemed amusing at the time.
Then again, so far we are up to about five or six slammed doors. I think I’ve heard “I hate you” only twice. But yes, check their birth certificates, they are teens.
As my heart was breaking listening to this other parent’s story of her struggles, I wondered what was different about our house.
I thought about a friend who has very strict reins on her kid’s computer habits and, now that I mention it, almost every other activity, too. She told me why — “I don’t want him to do what I did at that age.” I’ve also heard, “I know what she can do at this age.”
Let me know if I’m missing something, but this is what occurred to me:
-> My friend doesn’t trust her kid to follow her marching orders, so she tries to overcontrol at a time when the kid is seeking independence and self-control.
-> At our house, we set up tasks and required behaviors that the kid will have to do as an adult anyway, training them to be adults.
What’s the core issue here? Trust.
1. Trust the Kid
I think trust has probably been the biggest factor in our ending up with non-monster teens.
I trust my kids to always be making the best decision they can make (which as this age, might not always be the wisest, I remind myself.) And then I make it my job to step in where they aren’t learning from consequences and show them easier options.
So when a kid doesn’t come home on time or do their chore, I trust them. I have spacey creative kids, and they probably got involved in what they were doing. I trust that they knew what they should have done. Then we have a Long Boring Talk in the near future about keeping your word, etc.
I used to NOT trust that they knew this, and things got ugly, fast.
But when I let go and did start trusting that they knew better, the issue shifted. It gave them more independence and respect they could feel. The issue became a behavioral thing then, down to mere choices or breaking old habits, not a question of whether they were smart enough or good enough or responsible enough.
How much do you trust your teenager? Is there something you can trust them about or with? If there was something, what would it be?
2. Trust the Universe
I choose to trust the Universe too. Trust is a choice, after all. You can begin to trust right now with a simple choice. I deeply trust the Universe, even when I do not understand.
So when a teen is late coming home at night, I don’t run through every scenario that could have gone wrong. (Ok, once in a while I do catch myself doing this, and then I stop.)
I refuse to give negative fantasies, aka worry, any energy. I refuse to make those options any more likely.
Yes, I might ask the Universe to keep an eye on the kid. I might text said kid. Or I might go to bed without doing anything, following up with a Long Boring Talk about what it was like for them to be at that decision point and how they weighed their decisions, and how it felt to be at home waiting for them.
Each time a kid departs my supervisory radius, I trust that everything will work out for the best. This did not come easily at first. It is a spiritual practice.
What are you trying to control with your teen? Can you truly control that? How might letting go be a healthier choice?
Can you make a choice to let go of something stressful, right now?
3. Be Trustable
When I first started parenting, my #1 rule, which I have only broken 3 times (sigh, long story), was to never ever lie to my kids. As a kid I was empathic and it was extremely confusing to experience adults lying to me. When I became a parent I realized how easy it is to throw a white lie at a kid, without even realizing it. (The kid won’t know, right? Wrong, lol.)
Honesty is always the best policy in our house, as in life. This is especially true in important relationships, which are based on trust, and which every parent models for their kid (whether they intend to or not, live with the kid or not).
In this house, admitting to having lied does not get you yelled at, but gets celebrated and may even get your punishment cancelled. Yay for telling the truth.
So we model telling the truth and being trustable. And no, it’s not always easy, and we don’t have a perfect track record by any means, but the results for our efforts have been priceless.
Our kids trust us to not blab confidences, even to other family members. Our kids trust us to be on their side, to support them, to help them figure out who they are, to always root for them, or to help them when they are confused or upset. That track record has carried into the teen years, though I notice they are more reluctant to outright ask for advice as teens, which I have to admit I miss.
Finally, I also believe being trustable includes not criticizing your kid. It seems to me that too much criticism, especially unasked for, makes one untrustable. Randomly criticizing is like randomly punishing, which drives animals mad in experiments.
You can help your kids improve, if they want you to help. I have to seriously stretch myself to allow my teens (or tweens or grade-schoolers) to express THEIR style in THEIR way.
Our job as parents is to help them see and learn to live up to their potential (not to be our dollies or puppets, tho). It’s easy to criticize when I get frustrated (then I apologize), and I’m working hard on this one. But it’s good for both of us.
Be trustable. Not criticizing yourself — or others — is another brilliant spiritual practice.
How are you trustable for your kids? How do they know this? Are you ever unpredictable or arbitrary? Or do you stick to what you say?
4. Trust in Your Romantic Relationship
One of the big reasons I married my husband was trust. At the time I felt he was the only person on the planet I could 100% trust (well, also he’s super cute and funny).
Since trust is such a great element in friendship, my husband and I have sustained a fabulous friendship over, um, about 33 years now, yikes. Overall, we’ve enjoyed buckets of trust in our relationship, and it runneth over into the family, too.
I couldn’t live any other way, because I chose not to. Trust was a huge requirement for me for a life partnership.
How about you? Is trust a requirement for you?
5. Trust Yourself
Finally, I trust myself. Hey, I’m not perfect, but I am doing my best.
Ya, the spanking experiment didn’t work and was shelved after only a couple months. Yelling, well that has not been so good, but I trust them to forgive me…in the long run.
Face it, we all have made parenting mistakes.
I choose to trust it will all work out in the end. I choose to trust that my kids’ wonderfulness and the power of his or her higher, divine self will trump my faulty parenting by miles and miles.
And personally, I choose to trust that God loves me no matter what stupid thing I say or do today. He’ll be waiting for me in the end, when we can all have a good laugh then.
So I trust myself. I choose to accept my innate trustworthiness.
Do you trust yourself? Where have you been naturally trustworthy? What is one thing you can do to allow yourself to trust you? (If you are still stuck, ask someone who trusts you WHY they do.)
An Exercise in Trust
So what do you think of the trust thing? Is it relevant? Try this. Think back to your childhood. Did you feel trusted as a kid? What did that feel like to NOT be trusted? Journal a page about that without stopping (you can burn or shred it when you are done).
Not being trusted rotted, as I recall. When it happened, I felt demeaned, not respected, and babied. And as a teen, I haaaaaated that.
Oh look, emotions! That there is raw gunpowder for the rebellious teen years, isn’t it?
The trouble with out-of-control teens is that the more they go crazy, the less and less you feel you can trust them. What if you just drew the line one day and said, “You know what honey, I’m going to trust you to make the best decision about your activities this weekend. Let me know if you want any input or help.” (And then you have to really let it go.)
What might happen? (After they pick themselves up off the floor, lol.) Want to find out?
Personally, I believe anyone who is a Child of God is trustworthy. (That would be everyone.)
If that is true, the key question becomes how can I live up to my inherent Trustworthiness, and bless others by sharing it?
I trust you will come up with something.
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