OK, let’s cut to the chase: There is none. There is no formula or recipe that parents and caregivers can use to make sure their teen is happy, or easy to deal with, or successful or uncomplicated.
Let me be even blunter: If your teen is a well rounded ray of sunshine, all the time, everywhere, with everyone, I would be somewhat concerned.
Reason being that adolescence's developmental task is to create a sense of self, which practically means they need to figure out who they truly are (this includes, but is not limited to their gender, sexual, cultural and political identities), and in order to do that they need to push away most trusted adults, question almost every value their lives have been organized around, and make mistakes that are often devastating. To top it all off, they need to do it all as they are managing achievements in school, with their own peers serving as their biggest support resources - which means they depend on people who are as confused and as lost as they are, most of the time.
Can you imagine doing all of that without feeling angry, frustrated, lost, sad, nervous, emotional and overall out of whack?
Understandably, parents want their children to feel good about themselves. They want them to be happy and safe and they really, really don’t want them to suffer.
There are a few things harder than watching a loved one suffer, especially if one is in charge of their well being.
But here’s the thing - this suffering (much like any suffering human beings endure) will be the greatest teacher to them. It is through this suffering that they will accomplish the above mentioned developmental task: They will learn exactly who they are, and who they are not.
As much as I understand the need for some clear cut guidelines on how to deal with important issues such as social media, substance use, sexual behaviors (sexual intercourse, porn, etc), I refuse to suggest generic formulas to parents, on my blog or in my presentations, simply because formulas are a set-up for inadequacy.
Formulas suggest that there is A RIGHT WAY of doing something. So if you tried following a formula, and it didn’t work, something must be wrong with you, or with your child (or both). In reality, however, every parent-child relationship, and every family dynamic, is as unique and as intricate as snowflakes (excuse the poetic imagery), and finding the right balance between the different, complex components, that make this dynamic effective, varies accordingly. It’s confusing and challenging enough to raise an adolescent - why add unnecessary doubts and fear of incompetency?
The only generic guideline I offer parents of adolescents is: Keep engaging and communicating with your teens. It’s not about the ’what’, it’s about the ‘how’.
More often than not, parents seem disappointed or cynical when they hear it and I understand why: it sounds like some new-age, flower-girl, naive statement and it leaves parents feeling lost with how to actually manage the day to day battle at home.
Believe me, folks, I am very opinionated, and I am not shy to suggest clear and direct “action items” to parents and families who come into my office. I do not sit there and tell a family whose teen is struggling, to just smile and talk softly to their child. Nevertheless, whatever guidelines I’d recommend parents to take, I will always emphasize the need to communicate these actions in as a compassionate and respectful way possible, no matter how resistant the teen may be.
Think about it: at the end of the day, as adults looking back at defining periods in our lives, we might not remember the day-to-day occurrences, but we definitely remember how we were treated. In adolescence - a time in which the young person is grappling with issues of identity, and their place in the world - what is of greatest importance is the sense of having a voice, and being seen and heard.
In my next post I will go deeper into what it means and what actual skills are required in order to communicate and engage with teens effectively, so stay tuned, and\or feel free to contact me with any questions, thoughts or inquiries.