Resources For Parents and Extended Family
Supporting Your Teenager’s Journey
Managing Your Own Journey
“Just Be Curious”
In This Section
- The Basics of the Teen Heroic Journey – The 3 core challenges, what to expect on the journey, & how to manage it
- The Primary Challenge of the Teen/Parent Relationship – The awkward dance of letting go of control & taking on responsibility
- Guidelines for Supporting Your Teenager’s Journey
- Guidelines for Supporting Your Journey
In the Rest of the Site – 4 Main Sections
- The 3 Core Challenges – Identity, Relationships & Competencies – CHALLENGES
- What to Expect on the Journey – EXPECT
- Strategies for Managing the Journey – MANAGE
- Special Topics – Thriving, Bullying, Making a Difference, Suicide, Gaming, Quotes, Other Resources, etc. – SPECIAL TOPICS
The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.Denis
1. The Basics of the Teen Heroic Journey
The Heroic Journey is Inherently Ennobling
Not all of a teenager’s behaviors are noble, but their overall journey is. Teenagers are on a 10-year journey where they are challenged to let go of their known world of childhood, encounter a great deal of unknown and face a wide variety of tough challenges and tests. They have to discover and master the ways of a young adult and they will be caught in-between the worlds of childhood and young adulthood for a long time – “inbetweenity.”
They didn’t ask for that journey. They got thrown into it with little preparation simply by a new stage in their development – adolescence. They will be on a rollercoaster with lots of ups and downs for 10 years (that varies). They will need to call on their courage, they will need to persevere, and they will need to develop resilience.
They will need to figure out how to manage their journey and become the authors of their lives – the central shift from childhood to young adulthood. And they will need a lot of guidance and support – even if they act like they don’t need it.
The fundamental journey is the same for all teenagers, but each teenager has to find their own way. And each parent has to figure out how to support each son or daughter.
Teenagers Face 3 Core Challenges
These are big complex challenges that are addressed over the 10 years of the journey – not always in obvious ways and certainly not on a smooth consistent path.
- Challenge #1: Forming an Identity as a Young Adult. “Who am I?” “Who might I Become?”
- Challenge #2: Developing More Mature Relationships – with Parents, Peers, Romantic Partners & other Adults. “Where am I connected?” “What’s a healthy relationship look like?” “How do I deal with endings?” “What skills do I need?” “Who cares about me?”
- Challenge #3: Building a Wide Range of Competencies – academic competencies, self-management competencies, life management skills,…………….
There is no recipe for supporting your teenager in taking on these challenges, but the site has a lot of information on each challenge. Essentially, your teenager has to “learn the way” – and so do you.
Teenagers Face 3 Different Types of Test
These three types of test are the same tests we face as adults as we change – or in corporate or community change. Teenagers just face a lot of these tests at the same time. Understanding the natures of these types of test makes a big difference in managing them – as teenagers or adults.
- Test #1: Letting Go of Old Ways – the thoughts, relationships and behaviors of childhood
- Test #2: Discovering & Mastering New Ways – the thoughts, relationships, competencies and behaviors of young adulthood
- Test #3: Dealing with “Inbetweenity” – the 10 years of being pulled between childhood and young adulthood
Teenagers are Tested & Grow on 5 Levels
To add to the complexity of the teen journey, teenagers are tested and grow on five levels. This is one reason the journey is so confusing and unsettling at times and so exciting and rewarding at others.
Teenagers are tested and grow:
The growth is uneven and often hard to see, but it’s happening. And it will happen differently for each teenager. And it will happen mostly outside their comfort zones.
“Before I got married I had six theories about raising children; now, I have six children and no theories.”John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester
2. The Primary Challenge of the Teen/Parent Relationship
The “Awkward Dance”
Makeovers & Moving Targets
This is a tricky relationship as it requires a long transition from a child/parent relationship to a teen/parent relationship to a young adult/parent relationship. Relationships are about “fit” and fit is always lost in change. And, in the teen years, everyone is a moving target. Fit may not be completely lost and the loss of fit may not last for a long period, but fit will be lost. There is no easy path through these relationship transitions and the relationship will often feel like an awkward dance where toes are stepped on and the rhythm is hard to follow.
Teenagers Taking on Responsibility & Parents Letting Go of Control
It’s tough for teenagers to take responsibility and learn to make good decisions when parents don’t let go of control – and it’s hard for parents to let go of control when teenagers don’t take responsibility and make good decisions. It’s no wonder the dance is so awkward so much of the time. There is a lot of “hit-or miss” involved and a lot of learning from missteps and a lot of experimenting. There is no cookbook and every family is different – even with different teenagers in the same family.
There is a lot of frustration for both teenagers and parents and a lot of anxiety, especially for parents. What teenagers don’t usually understand – and what parents often have a hard time admitting – is that it is simply scary for parents to let go because they are aware of the dangers. There is a risk in letting go too soon. However, there is also a risk in holding on too long.
That’s why this is the central challenge for teens and their parents, why it is so hard, and why the dance is so awkward.
Welcome to being the parent of a teenager. Prepare for a large amount of eye rolling, emotional outbursts, and thoughts of running away. And that’s just the parents.Unknown
3. Guidelines for Supporting Your Teenager(s) on the Journey
These guidelines are general and assume some familiarity with the content of the site. They need to be adapted to fit your situation at the time. There are lots of resources out there on parenting. The best thing to do is scan them and adapt the guidelines that make the most sense to you. There is a lot of common ground, but different resources will have different insights. Basically, we all need to create our own guidelines for parenting that fit us and our teenagers.
1. Stay connected
It’s a 10-year journey (at least). The key is to manage to stay present and connected, although the level of connection will vary – even when the anger, disdain, disappointment, frustration, and lack of lack of obvious success (on both sides) seems to dominate. One reason for maintaining some presence is so that there is someone to come back to.
2. Avoid diminishing
You can be tough, firm and demanding, but do not diminish a teenager. You can challenge, or even reject, behaviors, comments, positions or values without belittling. Teenagers are inexperienced and can be surprisingly vulnerable. They can also sometimes be maddening and it can be easy to let diminishing comments slip out.
3. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”
This classic principle is valuable for any relationship – from personal to business. Listening communicates caring, openness and interest. And it invites honest information. Think about trying to have a relationship without those qualities.
“When you talk to your child, mostly listen.” Cindy Cashman, Wisdom for Mothers
4. Keep looking at your teenager with fresh eyes
The changes often come without warning, so it’s easy to miss the changes and growth. You can easily end up trying to relate to someone who isn’t there anymore.
5. Remember – everyone is “learning the way”
Every journey is full of surprises, setbacks, stumbles, mistakes and frustrations. So forgive, recover, make amends, celebrate small steps and successes, learn from mistakes and setbacks, encourage self and others.
“Because of my lack of life experience, I will always cherish and follow your advice, said no teenager to a parent ever.” Unknown
6. Provide balanced feedback – positive and negative
Positive feedback is most powerful (must be authentic), but not most natural. No feedback is the worst feedback. Negative feedback is good if balanced with the positive. It’s easy, however, for negative feedback to dominate and be unrelenting at times as teenagers can provoke it.
Basically, positive feedback says, “Yes, do more of that.” Negative feedback says, “No, don’t do that.” No feedback means, “I don’t care enough to respond.”
Catch your teenagers “doing things right.”
7. Remember the central challenge of fit in relationships
For parents and teenagers, the main fit challenge is you letting go of responsibility while they take it on. That takes a long time and there will be a long period of “inbetweenity” where fit is often missing. It’s often an awkward dance and there is simply no way around that.
8. Create natural family experiences that develop competencies
There are lots of opportunities in family life to learn basic life skills – cooking, cleaning, laundry, fixing/building things. Small tasks that increase independence and a sense of capability are invaluable opportunities. They may get rejected, but they need to be offered repeatedly and, where possible, built into family life. It may take some work to turn “chores” into opportunities to become more competent and independent.
9. Tell stories of your journeys
Life is a series of heroic journeys – some large and some small. You have a lot of experience in going through journeys of change, so share what you are willing to share honestly – when they are willing to listen. Be ready for the times when they ask. And be honest about the good and the bad.
10. Help connect teens to other adults
The more trusted adults a teenager has a relationship with, the better. Not only does this take pressure off the parental relationships, it brings connections and wisdom from other adults to support a teenager. These can be casual or deeper relationships. This may take some work as most adults are not used to intentionally playing a role for teenagers – and they may not understand their importance.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”Carol
4. Guidelines for Supporting Your Journey
As Parents, You’re on a Journey Too
As a parent, you get thrown into a journey along with your teenager. You get dragged out of the known world of parenting a child and have to figure out how to be a parent to a young adult – and how to parent in the often chaotic period of “inbetweenity.”
1. Get used to the rollercoaster experience
They are on a rollercoaster and you will be too. There will be highs and lows – and sometimes calm. They can be over extended periods or they can change back and forth rapidly. And there may be times when there are highs in some aspects of your relationship and lows in others.
2. Remember, you will be tested and challenged too
Your teenager(s) will be tested to let go of old ways, discover and master new ways and deal with the extended “inbetweenity” of adolescence . They face those tests in a lot of areas of their lives. You will face them in terms of your parenting for sure and potentially in other areas of your life. That’s one surprising area of common ground for you and your teenager(s).
“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of twelve and seventeen, for example, a parent can age as much as twenty years” Unknown
3. “Model the way”
Consciously model your purpose, values, caring, wisdom and best behaviors. Teenagers may block out or forget a lot of what you say, but they won’t miss much of what you do. And you are always doing, so you are always influencing.
“To bring up a child in the way he should go – travel that way yourself.” Josh Billings
4. Get/stay aligned with your partner in parenting
This can be tough at times. The parenting challenge is complex and has no recipe to follow and it is highly emotional. It also changes consistently. And, teenagers will often try to split their parents to either test them or get a desired decision. Assume that you will make mistakes. Just stay alert to aligning and re-aligning as the journey unfolds.
5. Get educated
The more you know and the more perspectives you can adopt, the better. There is a lot of good information out there about teenagers and parenting. It takes some searching and some work, but it’s worth it. We essentially “learn the way” in parenting teenagers. There are so many experiences that can cause doubt that having a solid base of knowledge can make an exceptional difference.
6. Develop negotiation skills and use them consciously
This specific capability is highlighted because it is central to a great deal of your relationship with teenagers. Getting to Yes from the Harvard Negotiation Project (Fisher and Ury) is a great place to start, This “interest based” approach is the name of the game, but the more perspectives you can develop, the better, so check out other approaches also. There are lots of parenting skills, but negotiation is at the core.
7. Talk to other parents
Join a group(s), talk with other parents in the neighborhood, at school, at games or performances. The heroic journey is a good framework for discussions with other parents, just as it is for conversations with teenagers. These can be formal or informal groups.
“Parenting without a sense of humor is like being an accountant who sucks at math.” Unknown
8. Create your own support network and take care of yourselves and each other
Parenting can wear you out or at least wear you down. To be at your best as a parent requires taking care of yourself, so that you can be present and bring your best for your teenager(s). If you’re a single parent, this is even more critical. If you have a partner, part of the challenge is attending to each other.
Your health can be physical, emotional, intellectual, social and/or spiritual (just like the levels on which your teenager is challenged. Your support network can include relationships with individuals, groups and organizations as well as activities, places of rest and renewal, etc.
9. Pay attention to #8
It is far too easy to fail to take care of yourselves as parents. But, you can’t take care of your teenager for ten-twelve years if you aren’t taking care of yourself. So, self-care is part of good parenting. Creating and maintaining a support network is part of good parenting. Some time and effort may not go to tasks directly related to your teenager – and that may be hard – but it’s necessary.
Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands.Anne