It's inevitable, and a necessary part of their growing up; our children gradually evolve into young people who form their own thoughts/opinions/experiences and paths. But that doesn't mean as their parent it isn't hard to hear, understand, or bare witness to it at times, right?
A chance exchange with an acquaintance last week at Target reminded me why it's "in the struggle" we have the greatest opportunity to grow as people...and as parents.
Dad's nightmare began one recent evening with an unexpected phone call from the local police letting him know his teen daughter had been caught drinking while at the home of a friend of hers...there was a lot of noise and kids running about the neighborhood, so a neighbor called...maybe you too have experienced this, or you know someone who has?
Dad admitted to me that he was struggling most with the embarrassment he was feeling around being called by the police. He could not understand why his "level-headed" daughter had made the choice to go to the friend's house (knowing the parents were out of town) to drink alcohol (knowing they'd talked about it and...he thought...agreed that she wasn't going to drink during high school). On top of that, he was appalled she was super "nonchalant" about the whole thing when he did go and pick her up. She told him he was overreacting.
"I have no idea how to handle my anger and disappointment, not to mention my embarrassment about this!"
I asked him if he thought he was overreacting, like his daughter had suggested...
After thinking about it for a moment he said, "Maybe. But I'm scared, now that she's made this choice once, it could easily happen again...and what if she turns into a party girl who isn't able to pull it together enough to get through high school and into college. She's got so much potential!"
His thoughts/feelings, while valid, aren't helpful. Because he's operating out of fear. The most productive attitude dad can take is to pause and be present.
The adolescent brain is a funny organ. During these years our kids are going through all sorts of hormonal and brain change which often leads to social and emotional change/choices we [moms and dads] just do not see coming. And because these wonderful kids are also more inclined to take risks while in the company of their peers, we've got to understand that our main role during this stage of their lives is to find a balance between allowing them to participate in social activities while also being aware of the potential for their choosing to do or say something we "know" in a million years they'd never do otherwise. And JUST AS IMPORTANT, we have to model the behavior we want to see in them.
You can't say "don't drink and drive" and then...drink and drive yourself.
Will not work. They see, hear, understand, internalize much more than we give them credit for...long before the teen years. But especially during this life stage.
A changing brain is not a teen's licence to behave and then be excused from whatever choices they make during adolescence (which, remember, is now defined as ages 10-25), BUT it's something we have to take into consideration as we work through an event (such as a drinking party) in moving forward with our teen.
I suggested dad process his anger, frustration, disappointment before sitting down with his daughter to talk about the party and her choices so that he would be present to her thoughts, feelings, feedback (instead of reacting from anger/frustraton/fear). Then, together, with his wisdom at the helm, they could come up with a healthy compromise around her socializing the rest of the summer.
Number one thing we've got to create as parents of adolescents is a true sense of energy around working WITH our kids; guiding them by being present of mind, and not fully influenced by our own angry/frustrated reaction. Our kids need us to work WITH them; not control and parent OVER them...especially as they reach the upper high school and young adult years.
Want to learn more about how to work through your feelings in order to really be there for your teen? Let's talk...