When my son turned thirteen, I asked two-dozen of our friends who had known him throughout his life to write their memories and encouraging words for him in a book, and he still has it today. I wanted to send him an empowering message of his value as he moved into his teens.
Many cultures use rituals to mark the transition during adolescence and the teen years as the official time when children become responsible for themselves. It’s also a time for release. None of us, as adults, benefits from blaming our parents for how we turned out. So this is the time for our children to stop blaming if that’s the model they’ve followed as children. It’s a time for graduating from childish ways.
As our kids begin to assert themselves and their independence, we parents may think, “We’re not understanding each other the way we used to.” And it’s natural that our communication changes.
Our children are born needing a relatively small amount of knowledge from us for how to operate in the physical world. And instead, we bombard them with mountains of worrisome information that they probably don’t need and that can even hinder them. The biggest being the concept that people and conditions have the power to make them happy or unhappy, and that they should spend their time trying to control life in order to feel OK about themselves.
As they enter adolescence, they no longer want to honor or adhere to our perspective, the way they did when they were small and thought we were gods. They want to find their own way, and rightfully so. They need to find that powerful, creative quality inside themselves now. And the more we support that, the richer their lives will be.
If we’ve been raising them with the distorted perspective that it’s our job to figure everything out for them, to give them all the answers, and to provide the final word on what’s right and wrong, we’ve probably over-ridden their innate guardian element.
It’s something that we’re all born with, and it includes our inner guidance that naturally leads us toward everything we need. And the parents who trust that about their children are way ahead and may not even experience a change in communication as they grow.
As their parents, we tend to believe that we know so much and that they know so little. In truth, we’ve forgotten so much and they’ve forgotten so little. So instead of us teaching them, better if we let them teach us.
Children naturally spend most of their time in a state of joy and fun and good feelings, which is the way it’s supposed to be. Too often though, we demonstrate the opposite to them. We feel bad because we have a sense that we’re not where we want to be, and then we think that we need to explain it, and then we use external factors as the reason or the excuse. In other words, we blame people and conditions for how we feel.
And by watching us, our kids learn to believe that they’re victims of what’s happening around them. And they let outside influences determine how they’ll react.
If that’s happening with our kids, we need to take responsibility for setting an inspiring example for them. And we need to help them understand that no one else is responsible for their thoughts, words and actions – by living it ourselves.
It means practicing being the best that we are. It means showing them that it’s possible to deliberately choose what to think and how to express. It means:
- Not pretending to feel good when we don’t. It’s OK to let our kids know that we sometimes get off track. And that we have the ability to acknowledge it, to not stay there too long, and to get back on track in order to enjoy life.
- Not coercing or manipulating them into doing what we want. When we feel bad, we don’t have the right to send them a message that they should change to make us feel better.
- Not saying one thing and meaning another, because they’ll see through it. Our kids read us perfectly, including every nuance in our attitude. And they amplify whatever we’re expressing. So how can we fuss at them when they got it from us?
- Demonstrating that we have a choice whether to freak out over life or to not get bothered. We have the ability to deliberately choose thoughts and experiences that lead us in the direction of joy – like when we were kids.
- Preparing them for real life. As adolescents, our kids are wanting, demanding and claiming freedom. And we can answer, “You’re free to feel good, and you’re free to feel bad.” Then we’re preparing them well, because Life doesn’t support anyone’s attempts to control or manipulate people and conditions. Life supports our positive response, even when it gets messy.
No matter what we do or how we approach it, adolescence and the teen years can turn out to be a wild roller coaster ride of emotions and experiences. So the more open and honest we can keep the communication in the home, the better. What can really help is marathon-communicating with our kids, because the unique and special results of marathoning that I described in an earlier article are also possible for parents and children.
48 hours of taking turns talking and listening can give a new perspective to everything. And if our kids decide to talk the entire 48 hours, even better! Then our role is to just listen. And we might be amazed by what they’ll tell us when they’re allowed, in an environment without distractions or judgment.
Our kids tend to think that they know everything about us, and who we are. And we may be surprised to hear what they think of us. What an experience for them though, to listen to us for 24 hours and to find out who we really are, how we think, and why we chose the ideals we chose, etc.
Four or eight or twelve hours won’t be enough. It will take the full marathon process for the magic to take place. When each person, child and parent, stops struggling to be heard, accepted and understood, unexpected things will begin to happen.
It will work for children who are asserting their way into adolescence, and also for those who should be, but aren’t.
And it will work for our adult children! It’s never too late to marathon. It can provide a great opportunity for release, especially if they’re still carrying our voices in their heads.
48 hours of exclusive focused positive attention provides a rare opportunity for parents and children to discover new ways to communicate. And to even go beyond “understanding each other the way we used to.”