The article “Profile of a Super Teen”, in the “New Canaan, Darien, & Rowayton Magazine” (Sept./Oct. 2013), really caught my eye! I began to ponder who the parents behind these teens might be because, in my experience, ‘switched on kids’ begins with the parents.
The teens cited in this article were very mature young adults – exceedingly self-motivated and grounded. In spite of all the usual high school pressures of academics and test scores, these teens were able to stretch beyond to focus on their personal dreams and passions, even beginning to share their gifts with the world. Almost unbelievable given the complex demands coming from all directions today!
So I asked the question, what kind of parenting allows and encourages teens to rise to this level of maturity? What are the ideal conditions for raising happy, balanced, and even high achieving kids? Could other parents learn from this exercise?
The experts in this article spelled out several outstanding mindsets in these teens such as their grasp of the notion that they’re not the center of the universe, but rather part of a greater whole to which it’s gratifying to contribute; that it’s good to be tenacious when pursuing dreams and goals; that failure can be a useful learning tool; that emotional intelligence is important in community building; and that being intellectually curious is fun.
In my experience, the two ingredients needed for kids to feel secure enough to morph into super teens are a consistent mix of acceptance and guidance in their lives. I know …easier said than done. It’s way too easy to slide off the rails at the first blush of adolescence. When parents use the same tactics and approach that they perfected during the 7 – 11 age timeframe, it backfires badly. Teens suddenly experience their parents’ attempt to manage and control them as a sign of lack of trust and belief in them. And so begins the power-struggle, resulting either in withdrawal on both sides or daily fights and general chaos. At that point acceptance is out the window.
The period of early adolescence, when children’s brain chemistry begins to change, is a very critical time when a smooth transition to new parenting skills and a fresh approach will save the family. There’s no time to sit on the sidelines, grasping one’s head, and hoping the teen years will blow over fast. That feeling of resistance and disconnect parents begin to feel from their teen is the wake up call to form a new kind of relationship with them. Many parents take their teens’ withdrawal as a sign that they’re not needed anymore, or as a welcome break, but teens need their parents’ steadying presence and support more than ever to navigate the challenging waters of the upcoming phase. The staying power of the parent is key to raising teens who can both cope and thrive.
The first step is to acknowledge that things have changed and begin to make a corresponding shift to a new and different approach. They need support in very unique ways at this stage. For example, a teen who is deprived of their voice, perhaps not heard, or criticized, blamed, manipulated, judged, and strong-armed doesn’t have the emotional capital left over for the kinds of qualities the kids in the article developed.
On the other hand, a teen who has the respect and loving support of parents who are consistently there as guides and coaches, can slowly gain their footing, cultivate their passions, and even expand them to benefit the greater good. They have the luxury to explore the fire in their bellies and pursue whatever that may be with impunity.
So what is this new approach? It includes skills that are learnable! Through Parent/Teen Coaching, I offer parents a step-by-step guide through this developmental maze so that they can connect with their kids instead of alienate them.
The principles that underpin the Super-Parent mindset are as follows: When you respect your kids, they hear you. It’s powerful! When you listen to them with an ear to what it’s like to be them, they feel understood. When you understand them, they feel appreciated. When you appreciate them, they feel supported. When they feel supported, they become responsible. When they are responsible, they grow to become independent. And when they actually arrive at independence, they will respect you and love you all of their lives.
Being a Super Parent is not rocket science. Super Parents are people who, in spite of stumbles and falls, persevere to provide family environments of trust, acceptance, negotiation, encouragement, and love. That, in turn, supports teens to cultivate their unique voices and live into their dreams. For most parents, it usually means learning some new skills and becoming proficient and unshakable. It’s never too late to learn how to proactively guide your precious child to a future of success, happiness, and even Super Teen stardom.