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Be The Change You Want To See In Your Teen

April 23, 2020

As parents of teenagers, we can easily flip the switch into panic mode trying to figure out how to fix, change, fix, and quick!

But, what if Gandhi was right when he suggested that we just be the change we want to see in the world? What if the “fix” is as simple as us parents making a few changes in our own mindset and modus operandi that inspire our teenagers to do the same? Could it be that simple? Could we seek to be the change we want to see in our teens?

Here are five personal changes that we as parents can choose to make that will create a deeper connection and more enjoyment in our relationships with our teenagers while ALSO helping both sides of the equation to level up!

Positive change breeds positive change. Read on with an open mind and let’s see if we can inspire our offspring!

  1. Don’t be so mature. We worry that time is passing too fast as we see them get bogged down by trying to grow up. When our teens look to us, do they sense the same heavy weight of life, the demands to measure up, and a deep concern for the future just chipping away at our psyche, the life draining from our days? Do you think we can give ourselves permission to lighten up and be carefree little kids now and then? Do you think we could take an inventory of all the stressors in our lives and find ways to manage them in a way that sets us free from reality, if just for 30 ridiculous minutes a day?
  2. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Statista.com states that drug overdoses have reached an all time high in 2017 for teens and young adults at 5,455 deaths compared to 1,240 in 1999. From vaping to alcohol to drugs, from prescription pills to cocaine, our teens are at-risk. These stats can feel like they are unrelated to our own families, yet we also know that these numbers represent names of real kids who have real moms and dads. It takes a ton of courage to do a check-in with ourselves, as adults who can drink a damn glass of wine when we feel like it and smoke a joint if we are in the mood. And they see us. We show them how to act, how to “cope”–every day. We teach them how to offload stress. They know when we are hooked. Let’s take a look at our frequency of using mind-altering substances and ask ourselves if some changes are in order. We could even share with our teens what we are up against. Sometimes, being vulnerable is our strongest move.
  3. Mind your manners. The weird phenomenon of speaking to our own (once) precious babies in a way that we would never-ever do if they were, well, a stranger in the paper towel aisle at Target, is real. Then, we complain with little self-awareness about the horrible way they dare speak to us. Gritting our teeth while saying the “right” thing isn’t a real win either! They feel us. They follow our lead. They feed off our energy, just as we do off of theirs. Do we think we have the right to speak rudely to our kids because we pay the bills? Or because they were rude first? It sounds so illogical when we really think about it, yet we sometimes fall into the snippy, short-tempered rudeness that we despise in our teens so much. Could we make a commitment to take a breath and really be mindful of how we sound and then consider if we’d appreciate a fat dose of our own medicine in return? Try a safe word for when things get heated as a chance to breathe and rethink our approach.
  4. Screen time as “me-time.” It’s so common these days to look around a restaurant or a park and see entire families nose-deep in their phones. While we as parents often feel entitled to check in with work, pay bills, and keep up with our families, the end-result is the same as our kids being in a Tik-Tok trance or an Instagram escape sesh. Face in phone. Same/Same. We can certainly feign virtue and say to ourselves that we are only looking down at our phones because they won’t look up from theirs, but what if we took a stand and held ourselves to the same standard that we wish our kids would meet? Screen time overload is a human thing as much as it’s a teen thing. What if we locked down our phones as a routine, despite the likely fallout, as a team. What could we find out if we were eye to eye instead of top of head to top of head? Try a trade! I’ll keep yours, if you keep mine!
  5. Health and Well…Go outside, we say. Get some fresh air, we say. When I was a kid, we rode bikes and skated all day, we say. But these days, those days are history. We are long on car rides, short on time, low on energy and scarcely interested in keeping up with our fitness, especially during stressful, jam-packed periods in our lives. Food choices? Easy and cheap and totally justified because, you know…the schedule. If we do work out and eat right, is it our own thing? Do we show them how to make a priority out of self-care, how to style their food choices and physical activity in a way that expresses their tastes and fits into their lives? Either way, they are connecting the dots that we’re laying out. Either it’s ok to not care or they see that we care, but they haven’t been taught (versus told) to follow through and to do the hard work of choosing this over that.

We know we are their primary role models, but as time flies quicker and quicker, as stress builds a wall around our hearts and pressure clouds our minds, we have to do the humble work of looking in the mirror, at our schedules, at our tone, and our habits and vices to find out that maybe they’re just following our example, for better or for worse.

It’s almost eerie to see that when a kid is dealing with a particular issue like addiction, lack of vulnerability, perfectionism, anger, reduction in motivation that when I get to know the parents, one of both of them are dealing with the same exact thing.

We really want to believe that they don’t see right through us, that our weak lines  (“do it because I said so” or “I can do this thing I’m telling you not to do because I’m an adult”) will actually make the difference we are just desperate to see. It just doesn’t work like that.

To be a better parent (defined by more connection and open communication between you and your child), you really do have to seek to be a better person. Still YOU, but the real you, the awake you, the sober you, the alive you, the authentic you. Then and only then can we be given the respect that we swear we “deserve.”

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