We are firmly into the teenager stage now. The time everyone warned us about. Teenagers are difficult, teenagers hate their parents, teenagers don’t listen, teenagers don’t want to spend any time with you, teenagers can’t be trusted. Wow, teenagers really get a bad rap don’t they? And then we accuse them of having a bad attitude? Talk about strange.
The good news is, I haven’t found any of the above to be the case so far, and I seriously doubt my daughters will one day wake up and be completely different people.
In truth, they are the same people they have always been. Loving, caring, kind people who desire connection and understanding and support. They are these people when they are going through big changes, and when they aren’t. Whether they’re having a good day, or a bad day. Whether their problems are big or small. They are not a different species, they certainly don’t deserve to be looked down upon, and when it comes down to it they kind of just need the same things they always have.
Teens are growing and changing and there’s such a big focus on them becoming independent, and separate, and moving away from their family. What I think we also need to remember, is that our teens still need to be nurtured! They are going through big changes and while we need to give them more freedom and make space for their rapidly growing independence, that doesn’t mean we need to pull away from them; to suddenly see them as opponents in some kind of battle. In fact, in times of big change, you need your people more than ever.
We need to stay close. We need to support. We need to nurture them as they grow. Just as we did when they were little.
Sure, it may look a little different. The conversations are certainly a lot more complicated. But, the basic idea is the same. Teens need connection and guidance more, not less.
It’s their job to grow their independence, which sometimes might feel like they are pulling away when you are so used to being the one caring for them. But, it’s our job to stay.
Not to overstep, or takeover, or get involved when they don’t want help. But at the same time, not to meet their growing independence by also pulling away from them, or pushing them into more than they are ready for. But rather, to be that steady constant that they have always needed. To give them the space they need, make room for their growing wings, but to always be a safe haven. A soft place to land. A comforting constant.
It may feel like they need us less, but they don’t. Maybe they need less of the physical help, maybe there are more frequent times they want to give things a try before coming to you for advice, but they never need less love and care. What they need is for us to adapt to this change, but to still be that safe nurturing space. Don’t pull back on that.
There seems to be a perception that teens need less, and that we need a whole new strategy for our teens lest they become terrible people. I think they just need the same things they always have, things all humans need, but maybe in different ways. I don’t think our response to them pulling away is for us to do the same, creating a bigger distance between us. Stay put. Stand firmly in your place so they always know where to find you. Let them venture out, and return as much as they need to.
Nurture them, as you always have, through every stage. How much difference would it make if we changed our perception? If instead of seeing them as needing our control, and expecting conflict, we just concentrated on nurturing them through this period of big change. They are never too big for that. No one is.
How to Nurture Your Teenager
“We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”Virginia Satir
You’re never too old for a hug, but it doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people! Young children give out hugs freely, they demand them, they plant sloppy kisses on you regularly, but a teen might not be as open about their needs. So, be the one to initiate hugs, kisses, snuggles, a pat on the back, hand holding, or any other ways you show affection. Always consensually of course, that should go without saying. Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘can I have a hug?’, and respect their answer. Hug them when they wake in the morning and show them you’re glad to see them, when they leave the house so they know you’ll miss them, and at any other opportunity! We all need warmth and affection.
“When kids don’t get enough healthy parental touch, they go looking for love in all the wrong places.”Dr. Laura Markham
Just because they don’t need you to do as many things for them, doesn’t mean it isn’t a nice thing to do anyway. It’s hard growing up and having many more responsibilities. When you unexpectedly do something for someone that is usually their job you’re saying ‘I care about you and I was thinking about you when you weren’t here’. We are so obsessed with forcing responsibility and independence on children for fear that they will turn out lazy and selfish. How about we just expect the best instead of the worst? Everyone grows into independence when they are ready. Ease the transition. Plus, the best way to promote the behaviour you want to see is to model it. Want your children to be kind, considerate, and responsible? Be that.
Time for conversations
Make time to just chat with your teen. It could be in the car, over a meal, or while enjoying an activity you both like together. Have conversations about important things. Hear their perspective on the world, find out about their own values, wonder at the identity they are forming as they grow. For so long they were tiny and their views were shaped by yours. Now they are growing into their own person and you have to get to know them at this stage too. Show them that you want to know every version of them! Ask them questions and really listen to what they say. While you’re at it, have plenty of conversations about silly, unimportant things too. Laugh together frequently.
Belonging is so important to everyone. We all need to belong. Our teens need this so very much. Make your home a place where everyone feels they belong. Where they are celebrated and accepted for who they are. Where they don’t have to be afraid to try new things, explore ideas, have differing opinions, or be 100% themselves. Where they are always free from judgement. Where they can expect unconditional positive regard.
Work hard on your family culture. Create traditions and memories that feel like home. So no matter how far they fly, they know they always have someplace to come back to.
Forty percent of teens reported feeling irritable or angry, 36% reported feeling nervous or anxious, 36% reported feeling fatigued or tired, and 31% reported feeling overwhelmed due to stress in the past month.source
Teens today are more stressed than ever before. A quick google gives some pretty worrying statistics (read more here, here, and here). Why are they stressed? A lot of it has to do with school and worries about the future. We have put them in an environment every weekday for their whole childhood where they are told that if they don’t do well, they will not be successful in life. They are judged, measured, standardised, threatened, and punished when they don’t do well enough. That is stressful for anybody.
In our home we have completely removed that kind of stress by removing school from the equation. We unschool, as that kind of environment is not acceptable to us. However, that is not possible for everyone. You can still remove stress from your home though. You can refuse to participate in heaping stress on your teens about their performance and future. You can let them know with your actions and words that grades are not everything, that school is a tiny portion of their lives, and that things will work out no matter what happens. You can make sure they have time to pursue their real passions. You can make space for plenty of free time, and fun, and play, and joy. Make time for doing ‘nothing’, reading a good book, and getting outside in nature (yes, still important at every age).
This means: allowing age-appropriate freedom (and working through our own fears about that so we can truly judge what that is), guiding and supporting them, being there for them when they make mistakes, talking through decisions, allowing them to form their own values, encouraging trying new things, and trusting them.
This does not mean: purposely making things difficult to teach them a lesson, saying ‘I told you so’ when they make a mistake, refusing to help them right a wrong, judgement, constantly trying to ‘teach them a lesson’, forcing them to do things before they’re ready, or removing your help when they get to an arbitraty age.
Schedule in family time, and fun, connecting activities. Help them stay connected during this time by making it easy for them. Make time for family dinners, movie nights, fun adventures, or whatever you’re into.
In times of big change, predictability can help us feel safe. Family rituals, routines, rhythms, and all those things we were told were super important when our kids were little are still important now. It just might not look like bedtime stories anymore, but instead evening chats over snacks and a TV show you both enjoy, or cooking dinner together.
Sites of mutual fulfillment
“An SMF is a place where both the child’s and the parent’s urges and needs are met. They are places where all parties leave with a full cup. They are the vital mental health break in a day for mum or dad. Having enough SMF’s planned throughout each week can make the difference in whether we enjoy parenting, or not.”–Lucy Aitken-Read
It’s important to be curious about our kid’s interests, but, often what we like about them is seeing how much our children love whatever it is, not so much that we enjoy it ourselves. That’s ok! We’re all different! We can still show an interest. What’s also important though is finding what Lucy calls ‘sites of mutual fulfillment‘. Things you can do, places you can visit, where mutual enjoyment is happening! Spend time together where you are both having fun and also enjoying each other’s company. This is the best! You will need to work out what these places are for you.
Freedom to be little
Growing up is hard. Sometimes you want to be so old and responsible and mature, and sometimes you just wish you could go back to being tiny, and playful, and carefree. Please allow space for that! There is no cutoff where children are one day children and the next they are grown. It’s a slow back and forth. Branching out and then circling back. Is there anything more nurturing than all the parts of you being accepted? Than not being forced into something permanently just because you did it once? Let them take it slow and find their feet. There is no rush.
Don’t take it personally
Just as always, don’t take things personally. There will probably be some conflict, just like at any age. They will probably take some frustrations out on you. Try not to take it personally. See them instead of their behaviour. You are their safe place, which also means you are safe to let out big emotions on. It’s actually a compliment if you think about it, right? Have boundaries, of course. You don’t have to accept being treated disrespectfully. But, have a whole heap of understanding too.
There are so many warnings about how hard the teen years are. Maybe we can just remember that it’s hard for them too, and they need our understanding, care, and nurturing as much as ever. These are the things I’m focusing on right now. What about you?