Teenagers! For me, it’s an experience beyond anything I could have ever imagined summed up into one word. I have a rebellious teenager that likes to push boundaries. If something doesn’t apply to his current life experience then he’s not interested in listening or learning. He’s in a hurry for freedom and wants to skip all the steps in between.
Over the last four years my son’s decisions have included lying, stealing, sneaking out, drinking, smoking pot, skipping school, vaping, running away, and the list goes on. No one wants to talk about the difficult times or admit that things feel impossible. And the truth is, sometimes things do feel impossible and it sucks!
Looking back, there were many days I just wanted to give up from pure frustration and exhaustion. I was waking up in the middle of the night feeling like the worst parent imaginable and continually beating myself up, trying to figure out what I did to contribute to his bad choices. I couldn’t commit to social engagements because I didn’t trust my son and even had to cancel plans and trips on many occasions. I was arguing with my husband constantly because we couldn’t seem to get on the same page. I thought I was moving through it like a warrior, but deep down I was extremely overwhelmed and helpless.
You don’t have to have all the answers surrounding teenage behavior.
Just because you are a parent doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It’s our instinct to seek solutions to the things that feel challenging or unfamiliar so that we can fix the problem and get back to feeling comfortable. There is no secret potion, lucky coin or magic book that exists. Stop worrying about knowing the answers. The answers will come (maybe not today, tomorrow or even next week, but through perseverance and patience they will arise.). None of us have it all figured out and if we are willing, our teenagers can help us with the learning process.
You can’t control your teenager’s decisions.
One of the hardest things for me to practice as a parent is surrendering to the fact that I can’t control someone else’s decisions. We can’t control the choices someone else makes, the reactions they have or the way they do things. Period. We can control the way we react. When we feel powerless we get scared and we react from fear or anger. We try to control the outcome the way that suits us best. This sort of response makes us believe that we can change someone’s actions because we think our way is better. This leaves no room for discussion to really learn from our teenagers. They end up feeling frustrated and they have no space to be themselves.
It’s so important to listen and validate your teenagers.
The best discipline we can give our teens is to be patient, empathetic and loving. My son didn’t feel like he was welcome in his own home. He didn’t feel connected to anyone. He felt like a disappointment. So crushing to hear but that was his truth. I’ve learned that the power of validation is critical, even if I don’t understand or agree. It’s important not to dismiss or judge his feelings and listen wholeheartedly so he feels understood. This has really boosted his self esteem and his ability to trust that when he opens up, his feelings matter.
As parents, we want our kids to learn lessons from us and sometimes we preach it. Our teenagers also have things to say that we may not want to hear, but they need a safe space and it’s huge a learning opportunity.
If you want to see change, it has to start with you.
Yes, this is a hard truth to let in. I’ve learned to pause and give attention to some things that are not my strengths, even when my intentions come from a loving place. Learning about myself and how I react to things has been a challenging process. It’s hard to look in the mirror and stare at the parts of myself that I don’t particularly like. It’s even harder to admit out loud, but I’m trying and I am aware and I’m learning from my teenagers.
I want my kids to know how much I value, accept and appreciate them. Even when they make decisions I don’t approve of or step outside of my values, I appreciate them. I know how painful it is to struggle and be misunderstood, only to have someone make me feel like a bad person. It can leave you feeling pretty worthless and that space is dangerous. I’m learning to really listen from my heart instead of preaching from expectation.
Understand your limits as a parent.
I’ve learned that my son’s rebellion is not just about his outward actions, it comes from what he is not receiving internally. When you are scared and worried, it can be really confusing to gauge what is healthy teenage rebellion and when you need to be concerned. My emotions were too intense to be logical. I had to stop letting the thought that I had somehow failed my son take over my brain and start trusting my instincts. Things didn’t feel right and I was in need of some professional feedback. I’ve learned that I’m no expert with teenage behavior and it’s dangerous to assume just because I’m the parent. I don’t always know best. And, learning from my teenagers is such a beneficial resource – they know themselves better than I do.
Having a rebellious teenager has opened my mind and my heart to all of the wonderful things they can teach me . And, all of the things I can learn about myself. I didn’t say the process was going to be easy, and at times it will feel impossible, so keep going because it will be worth it.