As parents of teens (or early twenties) or other adults supporting this age group, it can be tempting to impart the wisdom we’ve learned along the way. Here, take these gems of wisdom. Take them!!! Save yourself some of the trouble, pitfalls, and stumbles I went through. You’ll thank me later. Take them!
I’d bet the vast amount of what we share with our teens is truly well intentioned. Heck — it’s hard to see someone you care about in pain! I know that if I’m honest with myself, I’m on a some kind of soapbox more often than not with my teen. And it’s not that I want to “tell” her as much as I hope to save her some pain in her own journey.
So I’ll find myself on a soapbox (again). And then some “gem” will be left on the table (with the look that says, “Yeah, no, not taking that, you don’t get it”), and I’m like: “What?? That is so valuable!”. If I can remember to slow my own roll and take a deep breath, I remember that I didn’t care to listen to much of what my parents, coaches, or other adults trying to help shared with me at that age. I was trying to figure out who I was, and it was kind of a knee-jerk reaction to not want to listen. I was trying, however inelegantly, to create space to become myself.
Now, whether or not the advice was truly good is another matter (and I’ve learned over the years that the vast majority was excellent — my parents did know a thing or twenty). Key to remember right now is that it can be hard to listen on the outside when starting to work on anchoring and wondering how to listen inwardly.
This isn’t to advocate throwing up our hands and stepping out of our teen’s life, or not sharing at all. Rather, it’s to consider how else we can offer support. What might be better received? Modeling is the side door for providing support. Our teens may not care to listen right now, though they are always watching.
Are we modeling the values and behaviors we’re espousing? Are we walking our talk? If we’re noting that we are what we eat and that enough sleep is important, we’d better make sure we’re eating our vegetables and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. How about how we’re handling stress? Do we expect ourselves to be superhuman? If we are rushing around every day, insisting that we get into “balance” and beating ourselves up when we can’t fit everything in, it shouldn’t be a surprise when our teens over-schedule themselves and have no time for anything.
What about when life is messy or an old and painful memory triggers us? Are we giving ourselves space and actually dealing with it? Do we risk being vulnerable with and to others? If not, we may end up unintentionally dumping our pain on those around us (and guess what our teens learn here?).
This isn’t about being perfect in our modeling. It’s about trying, giving the best effort we can, and letting our teens witness our efforts. Modeling offers ideas and shows what the results can be — without telling. And while it may not seem flashy or get an immediate response, modeling will make an impact in the long run, for both ourselves and our teens.
Be the model for what you’d like to see.
For more on modeling, check out this post: Be the Model.