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.

My New Anxiety Mantra

Anxiety manifests physically before your brain can figure out what’s going on. You might feel it in your gut or in your breathing. But watch yourself to see what happens with you.

Today I was doing supervision with a fellow psychologist and she asks 3 questions of herself when she is anxious. I think that I will try it with myself and I recommend it to you as well.

First question: “What am I anxious about?” and give yourself some time to figure it out. It might surprise you that it is not what you first think it is. If you think a bit deeper, you might find a thread of anxiety that runs throughout your emotional life. And it might not be the current circumstance or tension you are dealing with.

Second, “Whose problem is it?” Most anxious people take on the upset feelings of others in their emotional world (e.g. mothers, teachers, neighbourhood children…) and think it is theirs to worry about. Again, think it through and get to the truth.

And #3: “Is there anything I can do about it right now?” If not, let it go. At least until you figure you need to pick it up again.

Now I have a weird disclosure to make. I use the “Reminders” app on my MacBook to tell me when I should start to worry about something! When I put a time clock beside the thing I am anxious about, my iPhone gives me a ding to remind me to be anxious. I laugh when I see that I have reminded myself to worry. Weird isn’t it? Reduces my anxiety though.

Empathy — When Something Good Is Done

When I am confused or worried, I want someone to listen without rushing or concluding or pronouncing. It irritates me when someone dismisses me with “look on the bright side,” or for those theologically persuaded, “God is doing something good.” I don’t want to be equally dismissive, so I look for the “giver’s” good intent and try to not take it deeply. What do you do?

Empathy is the ability to know and experience the consolations and desolations of another. It is a spiritual discipline, a social skill and a profound respect; it is a relationship and a friendship that matters deeply.

Empathy is not sympathy where the “giver” feels good about the giving. It is not solution focused, or panacea finding, or conversation concluding. Sympathy is a reactive protection from getting involved. It is limbic un-thoughtfulness.

I want you to watch a lovely 3 minute cartoon on what empathy is, what caring is. Brene Brown is the speaker with the words behind the drawings. To hear more of what she has to say, look at “The Power of Vulnerability.” Want to see even more? Check out her genius TED talk.

A Stranger Interview (or “Free Coffee for Free Thinking”)

Most of us keep to ourselves and the one’s that don’t are often referred to as “extroverts.” Introverts, those that gain energy in smaller groupings, however, are often the best at intimacy and are usually great in 1-on-1 conversations.

In some of my teaching, I ask my students to do “stranger interviews” with people outside their social / religious / age / race / gender constituency. 10 interviews with 10 strangers about the most important things in life.

My favourite series of interviews was by a student who interviewed 10 beggars on the Granville Mall. His criteria? They had to be beggars and they were willing to give him 10 minutes of their time to talk about intrusive matters for $10. That’s right, he paid them 10 bucks. (Other students have put up signs in coffee shops that say something like “free coffee for free thinking.”)

And I ask people in my counselling practice to do the same. “Talk to 10 people this week who are outside of your particular world and ask them 5 or 10 things.” Here are some example questions (any question can be asked but these are illustrative):

  1. Do you believe that you have a “call” for your life and if so, do you think you are living it?
  2. What is the essence of your “you”; that is, how are you unique, gifted, valuable to your personal world?
  3. What will “they” write on your tombstone (assuming you will have one)?
  4. If you were to design a T-shirt, what would it say / show on the front and back?
  5. Do you have a code of ethics – either formal or informal – that provides a structure for your life?

There are three parts to an interview. The first is “the ask” where you simply ask, “May I talk to you for a few minutes about things that are important to me?” This is pretty anxious for both parties but it is hard to turn down. The second stage is “the Q+R” as in question and response. Not so much answers to fill-in-the-blank, census-type questions, as responses to thoughtful considerations. And the last stage is “the wrap” where thank yous are offered and spontaneous emotions are experienced. Some people say things like, “this is the best interruption I have had all month.”

So here is “the ask” – “Will you take an hour out of your email-checking life to engage a stranger with some of the most important things of your life?”

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