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We need a common language

I hear it said that our systems are broken. I don't agree with that. The system's design is not the problem; the beliefs and judgments of the human beings in the system are the problem. Humans operate with a variety of predetermined thought processes including: survival of the fittest; people cannot change; the "bad seed"; competition within and between systems; martyrdom; I win-you lose; intolerance for what one doesn't understand; paper before people; CYA; and if it isn't written down, it didn't happen.

We have become so specialized that people in different systems (home, school, social service agencies, the courts, etc.), don't have a common language to understand each other.

Recognizing our common goal

Without sharing a common goal how are we going to find solutions for our problems with our teens?

Don't we all want to help our teens? Are we so overwhelmed by all the stresses in our own lives that we have become reactive, ineffective, and even helpless when it comes to understanding and helping teens? Yet aren't they experiencing exactly what we did? They want to belong; they want to have friends; they want to be free to be their own person; they want to try on new beliefs and behaviors; they need to understand themselves, others, and their place in the world; they want to make a difference; they want to know what they're going to do with their lives. They want to feel loved, respected, and accepted. Sound familiar?

Today's teens have all this technology that we didn't have. They talk differently than we did. They dress differently. They pay too much attention to the media, to their friends, to celebrities. They have crazy ideas and dreams. Sound familiar?

Weren't these the same feelings our parents had about us?

Those outer things about us were no more about the heart of us than what we are seeing is about our teens today.

It is true that teens have access to more information than many of us did as teens. However, not all the information they are exposed to is healthy or helpful. Information for good or ill is not nearly as important as being able to process that information and use it to create a healthy life style that includes one's self as well as others.

Tips for dealing with teens

Teenagers have inherited a complex and toxic world from us. We need to own that, upgrade our thinking, re-connect with our heart and soul, apologize for our failings and ask for forgiveness as steps to heal the chasm between us. We need to model the behavior that we expect from them.

If we want them to tell the truth, then we must. If we want them to respect us, then we must treat them with respect as we guide them and set limits for them. If we want them to have compassion, then we must create the experience of compassion from ourselves to them. If we want them to understand us, then we need to understand them. Whatever we want and are asking for from our teens, we need to be that. Our behavior will be an influence for good to show them the way to move from adolescence into the maturity that adulthood needs to be.

Our teens need us to get off our cell phones and iPads, turn off the TV, the computer, and other distractive technology and activities and BE with them. We model first, then we guide them to do the same with limit setting. We can't be a model for them when we are doing the same things we tell them not to do. "Do as I say not as I do" teaches lying, manipulation and deception.

What teens need from us

Improving relationships with our teens requires:

1. Open and honest communication related to their developmental level (They don't need us to be their friends.)

2. Keep the lines of communication open

3. Set and keep clear limits

4. Balance of everyday parental involvement and allowing them space and freedom

5. Family time at least weekly (like movie night)

6. Family meetings where everyone comes together and shares what is going on in their lives, upcoming events, family projects, and things that need to be done to keep the family running smoothly. This is a great opportunity to let everyone take turns chairing the meeting and following the agenda. It is a time for everyone to give their opinion and be heard and a time to honor and validate the final decisions made by the parents after input from everyone.

7. Our mature response to their behaviors. This means whatever feelings are triggered in us needs to be taken care of within us before we make decisions about what has happened and what needs to be done about it with the teen.

Behavior is communication

The teen's behavior is communication of their process of life and how they are doing. The most important lesson I have learned from the teens I parented and worked with is to not to take everything they say and do personally. Reconnecting and remembering my teen years helped me connect with how much of a struggle they were having. It also helps me remember what I needed from adults that I didn't get and that I told myself I wouldn't do when I had children. (Seems like I forgot that decision until they reminded me of it.)

Another thing I learned from my girls was that parenting triggered my issues about how I was parented. My reactivity to what they were doing had more to do with me and the conflicts I had between how I was parented and how I wanted to parent. I had to learn to calm my inner self before I dealt with the outer issues they brought to me. Out of my experiences with my daughters and our struggles I can now say how grateful I am for what they reminded my about the experience of being a teen.

Parents are told that, once your child is a teen, you can't do anything with them. I don't agree. Teens tell me they are yearning and sometimes fighting for their parents' attention, help and guidance. Parents are important to teens and teens are important to parents. It is time parents and teens quit seeing each other as the enemy. It is time parents and teens see that they love and need each other. But not just any old way.

Teens are a reflection of not only their parents, but also their peers and society. We need to stop parent and teen blame. We need to take a long pausing breath. We need to return to the love we have for each other and rebuild where we have ruptured our relationships. Adults need to go to the front of the line and be the guide to their teens to reconnect with them. This is not an easy task, but it is well worth the effort.

Bottom line

Parents and teens need to take response-ability for their feelings and actions rather than reacting and blaming each other. That is the road into the chasm of a damaged relationship. The road out of the chasm is connecting with love, kindness and understanding of self and the teen. We can't expect our teens to do this if we haven't. Parents need to be the change they want to see in their teens. When adults do that, their influence will change what their teens see and that will change what is wired in the brain.

Relationship is all that matters. Without relationship nothing else will do.

Deborah Chelette-Wilson, is an author, speaker, master relationship coach and counselor. For over thirty years she has worked 'in the trenches' with children and families who have experienced stress, trauma, attachment and relationship problems. When people use her approach their relationships improve.

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