Parents and Teens: A Few More Comments (Part 2)

I think a big part of parenting teenagers is self-control as in controlling oneself, not trying to control one’s near adult. If I can be more resilient as a parent then maybe I can parent more effectively. Psychologists call this “differentiation” and it is the ability to separate emotions from thoughts. When  thinking becomes clouded by emotional responses, we become undifferentiated. Families with lots of emotionally reactive reasoning used to be called “undifferentiated ego mass.” Lovely description of a family isn’t it?

Back to some comments about parenting teens with an understanding that no one does this perfectly. So first,

— Give up on being a perfect parent or having a perfect kid. Reality is more helpful than perfectionism.

— Don’t push your power, your age or your wisdom. Just because you own the mortgage on the home does not mean that you have the right to coerce or pummel your teens into compliance.

— Believe in your teen’s hyperbole. Exaggeration and overstatement is a favourite in adolescent communication. You don’t need to correct her. Anyway, she might just be the best Math student on the planet.

— You don’t have to be your kids’ friend. Accept yourself as a parent and learn to be good at it.

— Value what he or she has to say even when you disagree or have a different opinion.

— Speak quietly especially when the tension is rising. Tension goes up, voices go quieter and everybody listens more intently.

— Be careful of quick decisions. Quick conclusions are soon problems.

— Admit when you don’t know something. This is easier to do than you think. And your kid will appreciate your incompetence and see it as common ground.

So you might ask, “Did you do all these things?” Uh, no. I just did my best like you. But I wish that someone told me some of this while I was an undifferentiated ego mass.

Parents and Teens — Some Comments (Part 1)

For 5 years when I first started my work as a Psychologist, I worked for Family Services in West Vancouver where I focused on dysfunctional families referred through the public school system, police and probation.

I thought of these kids as “BC’s best” and mostly they were hopeful, resilient, and crafty and making the best out of some tough and tense circumstances at home and at school. They were also hard to handle – it was easy for me to talk with them as they got to skip school to “go see the shrink.” I remember one parent who asked if I knew of a monastery in Africa where he could send his 16-year old son. (Didn’t know of one.)

Some of the parents were excellent in loving and guiding their kids and some were clearly working out their own difficulties in marriage and life through their offspring. Some of these kids became the “Identified Problems” of the greater family tension.

Along the way, I worked up some principles for parents living with teens. These days I am having a resurgence of parents seeking help with their kids and I thought this list might make some sense to some. If nothing else, it might help parents remember what they hoped for when they were teens.

So for parents, in random order as it occurs to me…

— Be careful about criticism of anything. Even when you think you are only making a comment, it may well be experienced as another of a long list of judgments.

— Focus on your teen’s emotions. Kids “naturally” emotionally reason and this can seem illogical to you as a parent.

— Think about what depression looks like in a teen. Sometimes it is in withdrawal and sometimes it is in acting out aggressively. When your child is acting hurt and harmed, wonder about how his inner life is going.

— Say as little as possible and especially about your own experience, unless asked. When kids talk they want to talk and not listen to your thoughts.

— Don’t believe in “teachable” moments. Let your kid talk without your interruption.

— Ask questions that can be answered. Questions like, “Do you want to suggest with me 3 or 4 ideas from which you can choose?”

— Experiment in thinking in non-absolutes. If you have a 70% good relationship with your kids, then celebrate that. Don’t overly prod and provoke the 30% that is not the best.

Okay, that’s enough for today. In fact, that’s probably enough for a few days. I will post a few other ideas in a bit.

It is Where I Belong

Someone asked me the other day why church is important to me. For me, it is sort of like asking why my family is important to me. It is where I belong.

I know lots of people and many I know well. Some of these people I may tell my story to and I listen to their experience too. But in church, like in my family, there is so much I don’t have to say to be known and know that my belonging is not questioned.

This is probably obvious but psychological research finds that a sense of belonging increases meaningfulness of life. We feel our lives are meaningful when we feel we belong. I think that this is one of the reasons why people marry (rather than “live together”) and why they marry when they discover they are pregnant. “I want my child to know she belongs” is what is often said.

Here is an idea: close your eyes for a minute and think of two people or groups to which you really belong. Now consider how much meaning you feel in your life. (I just did this with the thought of my two grandsons – our granddaughter is due any day now – and “out of the blue” I feel my life has meaning.)

Note: this is not about what others give me (recognition say) or provide for me (a place to be known); it is what I am when I am with them. Now I can clearly see this with Jasper and Lucas – I am Poppa. I know who I am, where I belong, and in the mystery of our shared “us,” I have meaning.

Some people don’t know they belong. I had 2 clients yesterday who basically said that to me. One was married (and she with 2 kids) and one was single, 37 years old and into weekend hooking up when what he really wants is to be married with kids and to belong.

I want them to have family, I want them to have church.

“Bid Theory” and the Spirit of Marriage

Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”

By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.

Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.

This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as an evidence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly, because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.

Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?

Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”

Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.

(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.)

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