For Parents and Extended Family

The Teen Heroic Journey – Some Basics  to Remember

The Heroic Journey is Inherently Ennobling – (but not all the behaviors are noble)

Teens are not just incomplete adults.  They are literally on a ten-year heroic journey.  They are challenged to let go of their known world of childhood, encounter a great deal of unknown and face a wide range of challenges and tests, and they must discover and master the ways and competencies of young adulthood.  And – they will be in-between for a long time. 

They didn’t ask for that journey.  They got thrown into it simply by a new stage in human development – adolescence.  They will be on a rollercoaster with lots of ups and downs for ten years.  They will need to call on their courage and develop resilience and the ability to persevere. 

They will need to figure out how to manage their journey and become the authors of their lives – the central shift from child to young adult.  And they will need support, even if they don’t seem to want it.

Teenagers Face Three Core Challenges (See the dedicated section on the site)

These are big, complex challenges that are addressed over  ten years – not always in obvious ways.  There is no recipe for supporting your teenager(s) in dealing with these challenges, but the big sections on each challenge provide a lot of information on each one. 

  1. Forming an identity as a young adult.  “Who am I?’  “Am I worthy?”
  2. Developing more mature relationships – with parents, peers and romantic partners.  “Where am I connected?”  “Who cares about me?”
  3. Building a wide range of competencies.  “Am I capable of taking care of myself – of being successful?”

There are Three Different Types of Test (See the section on the nature of the journey – what to expect)

These are the same types of tests faced by adults in personal change – or corporate change.  Teenagers just face a lot of these tests at the same time.  The big section on what to expect looks at these tests in more detail, including examples.

  1. Letting go of the old ways of childhood
  2. Discovering and mastering the ways of being a young adult
  3. Dealing with being in-between childhood and young adulthood – “inbetweenity”

Teenagers are Tested on Five Levels (See the section on the nature of the journey – what to expect)

Growth through being tested will happen on various levels during the teen journey. 

  1. Physical level
  2. Intellectual level
  3. Emotional level
  4. Social level
  5. Spiritual level

This is one reason the journey can be so confusing and unsettling at times – and exciting and rewarding at others.

The Journey is a Rollercoaster – There are Lots of Ups and Downs

The rollercoaster is a central part of the journey experience for teenagers – and for parents.  And it lasts for ten years.  There are naturally lots of ups and downs – they are unavoidable – just part of the journey.  Expect them.  Celebrate the ups and don’t let the downs diminish or discourage you or your teenager(s) – they are just part of the journey – for everyone.. 

  • There will be successes and failures – progress and setbacks
  • It’s an emotional rollercoaster with excitement and anxiety, confidence and doubts, clarity and confusion, feeling connected and feeling unconnected, etc.
  • Teenagers will develop the ability to persevere and increased resilience as they go – and so will you

The Concept of the Heroic Journey is Particularly Important for Teenagers in a Diminished State

Teens in a diminished state can find immediate relief in seeing their experience as part of a heroic journey.  Struggling, failing, feeling depressed, disconnected, hopeless or disillusioned are all frequently parts of the journey – not happy parts, but parts of the journey and not the whole journey. 

All teens have some of those experiences on the journey and sometimes it can be extremely traumatic – for teenagers and for their parents.  And it’s all in service of successfully taking on the three core challenges and developing physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually. 

Keeping those experiences in the context of a journey helps – both in terms of “normalizing” the experiences and in terms of remembering that those experiences aren’t forever.   

Sections on Suicide – See the Specials section

There is a chapter for teens who are suicidal and one for teens who know a peer that is suicidal (also appropriate for you).

A Note on The Primary Parent/Teen Relationship Challenge

There is a fairly large part of the Relationship chapter that addresses this challenge (in the section on the three core challenges)

Makeovers and Moving Targets

This is always a tricky relationship as it requires major changes from a young child/parent relationship to a young adult/parent relationship.  Your teenager has to separate from you as a child and develop a new relationship – and you have to do the same from your perspective.  Relationships are about fitting together and “fit”, by definition, will be partially lost in the teen years,.  Everyone will be changing (hopefully), so it’s a matter of fitting moving pieces together.

“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

The Central Challenge – parents letting go of control and teenagers taking on responsibility

Fundamentally, you have to let go and your teenager has to take on responsibility.  Neither is easy to do, so this is rarely an easy transition.  This is a dance that is often not very graceful because it is just tough to get the timing right and for each party to take the risks and learn and change.  Lots of toes get stepped on and frustration can get pretty intense at times. 

The challenge may be common, but every family will be different.  It’s great when the new relationship starts to take shape and parents can relax and teenagers can feel good about being more in charge.  But it’s rarely a smooth path – nor quick.

Check Out the Quotes, Resources & Special Sections

Quotes.  Read some quotes – collect the ones that speak to you.  Quotes are bite-sized bits of insight and wisdom.  There are hundreds here, so just collect the ones that you like and reflect on how they relate to you and your journey.

Resources.  Check out the resources.  There is a lot of good information out there that can help you deal with specific issues – from health and problem solving to relationships and sex.  There is also a lot of bad information, so be careful and use your judgement.

Special Sections.  As the site grows, there will be more and more sections like the sections on suicide.

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.


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 maintain 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.”


“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 o 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 negotiations 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.

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.