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The Secret to Raising an Emotionally Agile Teenager

The Secret to Raising an Emotionally Agile Teenager

Have you ever watched a polar bear defending its cub? Or the gorillas and elephants fighting off a predator just to protect their young? Do you observe how these moms ward off predators even if it cost them their lives? These animals are fiercely protective of their young and this desire to protect their young is an instinctive one. As parents, there is no impulse more natural than the desire of parents to protect their children from harm. While humans do not have to protect their young from the immediate dangers of predator animals, there are a thousand and one things we want to protect our teenagers from, whether it’s protecting them from bullies or from the pain they feel from the loss of a loved one, or from being body-shamed in class or from falling apart the night before a big speech. It’s the same desire to protect them from pain irrespective of the situation. 

 

But can this be counter-productive?

In excessive quantities? Yes! Nobody wants to see their teenager in distress. We want to save them from any form of harm. However, the tendency to rush to their defence can end up aggravating their apprehensions rather than alleviating them. By shielding our teenagers from the parts of life that make them easily agitated, we can inadvertently discourage growth and impede the development of emotional agility (resilience). Have you wondered how many emotionally fragile teenagers are out there? According to Time Magazine, “adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up.” If this doesn’t make you concerned, what will? We are raising adolescents who are spoiled or helicoptered because we are trying to NOT make the mistakes our parents made with us which is amazing! But you must know that in the midst of the mistakes our parents made, we turned out to be a more resilient generation. So, is there a way to eliminate the negatives from our parents’ own parenting style while absorbing the positives in order to raise resilient teenagers? Of course, there is. We offer courses, masterclasses, etc that cater to these things. Before we delve into how to raise resilient teenagers, let’s talk about what resilience is…

Resilience simply put, is bounce-back ability. It is the ability of our adolescents to bounce back to a pre-crisis state following a traumatic situation. In a dispensation where there are a lot more adolescent mental health crises now than ever recorded in human history, speaking about resilience is a non-negotiable discourse. Training our adolescents to be resilient is even more important now than ever before. The social clime in this dispensation is completely different from the kind we grew up in and that of our parents before us. It’s been a steady evolution over the years but with these advancements in civilization has come to a huge problem over time – the emotional fragility of our children.

We know how important resilience is or at least I do. If you were at my first webinar, HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR ADOLESCENT? you will be familiar to a great extent with my journey to adulthood. How turbulent it was. While I am not endorsing that any child goes through that, what I have found is that a lot of adolescents today cannot go through what I went through and still turn out right. It doesn’t mean I don’t have scars to show for my errors, it does however means I was able to bounce back. Developing that bounce-back ability is what I am concerned about. How do we expect our adolescents to grow if they are easily distressed by difficulty? In this age of social media likes and a false sense of accomplishment from the number of following one garners, how do we ensure that our adolescents measure success by higher standards than these fickle things? If social media pack up today and Instagram for example shut down, a lot of our adolescents might lose their sense of identities. How do we ensure that irrespective of what life throws at our adolescents, they are emotionally agile enough to bounce back? I will show you in a bit!

 

As parents, it is our duty to protect our children from harm and if it is within the power of our hands to do so, our children will never get to experience any form of negativity or adversity. But I ask, how will they gain mastery over their emotions? How will they rise above the fragility threatening this generation if they do not have practical situations to work out their resilience? Do you not realize that resilience is built in the midst of adversity and crisis situations? Besides, if you do not give them room to become emotionally agile, when they leave your nest, what are they to do when tough times come? Because tough times do come. You can play a big role in helping your teen build resilience and here are some ways we think you can help cultivate resilience in your adolescence:

  • Do not see the crisis as a bad thing. That sounds super weird, right? Isn’t that why it is called a crisis in the first place? You may not know but the word “crisis” originates from the Greek word ‘krisis’ – which means ‘decisive moment’. Crises can therefore be seen as an opportunity. When handled appropriately, it can strengthen the bond between you and your adolescent. If you find out that your adolescent has been anorexic for a while, how you handle it can either break the communication lines between you and your teenager or strengthen them effectively. Having open lines of communication is what keeps crises from developing into full-blown disasters. Every crisis with your adolescent is also an opportunity to further strengthen your relationship. When your perception of crisis changes, your response follows suit almost immediately

 

  • Always Listen. Instead of rushing to help your teenager avoid the problem, or even immediately providing them with possible solutions, you can simply listen. This is usually a tough one for parents. It is not really easy sitting still knowing you could easily proffer solutions to the problem and it’ll all be over. But if you do this consistently, you risk raising a dependent teenager who will grow into a dependent adult. I am sure you want to raise a wholesome adult of the future. One who is confident in his/her decisions and does not need to second-guess himself/herself every single time. The process begins now. In simply not saying much, but really paying attention, you are creating a psychologically and emotionally safe haven. Their perception is most likely, “mom/dad values my thoughts”. That’s a huge impact on your adolescent.

 

  • Be Sure to Empathize. This is an important part of grooming a resilient adolescent. You have to feel from your adolescent’s perspective. Let her get those feelings out, no matter how upset she is. Do you recall how you always felt that your parents never truly got you? That’s right. You don’t want your child feeling this way. Even if you have all the answers in the world, you have to make them see that you are on their side. You might be wondering how empathy might help. Empathy makes you vulnerable. Vulnerability is good! In our course, we speak about the power of vulnerability and how potent a weapon it is in befriending your adolescent. As parents, we have been conditioned to always show our strengths while masking our vulnerabilities. This is, however, inappropriate not just by our unconventional parenting guidelines but also from research-based and parent-based feedback. Becoming empathetic towards their plight also teaches them the importance of being empathetic towards others. That’s intentional parenting. You actually get a chance to connect more deeply with your teen, to teach him how to problem-solve with really big problems, and to show him how to manage upsetting feelings – a skill they desperately need to learn during adolescence. After listening and empathizing with them, you can then use the opportunity to teach them problem-solving skills while you help them explore the sources of their anxieties. Once you’ve figured out what’s really worrying them, you can brainstorm together about steps they can take to navigate their situation. Ask open-ended questions that will help them solve the problem themselves.

 

  • Teach Them to Feel Emotions. This is very peculiar to our male children. Society keeps telling them, “you’re a man, deal with it”, “men don’t cry”, “why are you behaving like a sissy, deal with it like a man”. Over and over again, we are raising our boys to be very disconnected from their emotions. While this is more peculiar to boys than the girls, I have seen this at play in many teenage girls too. Our goal is not to suppress or deny emotions. Rather it’s to help them learn to benefit from emotions while knowing which ones may undermine their well-being. These are the skills our adolescents should build because, in this shark-infested world, those are basic survival skills for them so that they do not cower under the pressure of a bottled up emotion. That being said, we must fully protect our children from “toxic” stressors, those challenges that can be threatening to develop brains and bodies, such as drugs, abuse, (rape series) neglect, and violence. As we build resilient teenagers, we must not believe resilience means invulnerability. Everyone has limits. And we actually don’t want to build invulnerable human beings. Why? Because we want our teens to be passionate and compassionate. We want them to experience joy. To be committed to lifting others up and building a better world. To do so, they must have emotions — even though feelings set them up to experience pain.

 

Finally, I advise that you create support systems. Your teenager can also draw the strength to bounce-back from other supportive adults, like grandparents, aunts, uncles or teachers. Friends and classmates can be great sources of support too. Your adolescents’ success throughout life will depend on their ability to navigate difficult interpersonal situations either at work, in intimate relationships, with neighbours, in places of worship, literally in whatever situation they find themselves in. Adolescents learn skills more by doing it rather than just being taught. If they learn from you that difficult situations and conversations are to be avoided, they’re more likely to get divorced someday or fired because they lack problem-solving skills. If they learn that your world comes crumbling after every crisis situation, they are likely to give in to despondency, depression, and other mental health situations because they are emotionally fragile. If, on the other hand, they learn from you that people who love each other can disagree but work things out so that both people win, they are likely to put that skill to use with peers, in intimate relationships, and in the rest of their lives. If they learn from you that bad things happen to good people but the ability to feel the emotion, without getting sucked into the dark hole of depression is a possibility, they will thrive in life.

 

 

Please leave your comments in the comments box and if you want to reach me personally? Send me a message at tbog@tsageandtbog.com

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR ADOLESCENT KEEPS BAD FRIENDS

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR ADOLESCENT KEEPS BAD FRIENDS

“Why don’t you like my friend’s dressing?”

“So, what if Samson wears a durag? It doesn’t mean he’s a bad boy.”

“Why don’t you trust me? Amanda isn’t a bad friend.”

“Relax! It’s not like he’s a yahoo boy!”

Bad friends are every parent’s nightmare. What should parents do if they notice that their adolescent is hanging out more with a peer whose values don’t seem in sync with their own? Is there ever a time when you should forbid your child from being with a particular friend? Absolutely! But don’t jump to this conclusion too quickly. First, you know that this will be more difficult to achieve with your older adolescent but not impossible and second, it’s perfectly okay for your adolescents to have different kinds of friends. In fact, we should encourage such relationships. Exposing our children to diversity is a big part of helping them broaden their horizons, develop tolerance and even empathy. It helps them learn new habits, develop new perspectives, and get along with others. More importantly, it gives them an opportunity to test the waters and make mistakes all under your guidance such that when they eventually move away from home particularly because of education, they are better judges of character. The trick here though for parents is to figure out when the other child’s values or lifestyle is really reckless, self-destructive, or totally inappropriate. Then a separation must ensue.

Something to Ponder: Could hanging around this peer damage your adolescent’s character, reputation, or health? Keep in mind that our adolescents are rarely “made bad” by another peer, but the friends our adolescents choose to hang around with sure can increase the odds that they may—or may not—get into trouble.

I have engaged a lot of teenagers with behaviour problems over the years and their parents definitely had issues with their friends. Interestingly, these parents complain that the reason their teens behave in that manner is because of the kind of friends he/she keeps. But my response is very simple, “That might be true, but what if the reason he hangs out with that group is that he’s similar to them? Might it be that the parents of those other teenagers are saying the same thing about your own teen?” Before we go on, let’s explore the depths of our hearts by asking ourselves a very truthful question. Is your concern really legitimate, or is it that this friend doesn’t measure up to your expectations? Not all our adolescents’ friends can be the “perfect” type or the “ever-studying” type or whatever your favourite type of friend is, so don’t expect to like all your adolescent’s friends. I am reminded of Stephanie whose father was a preacher and whose mama was a social worker. She surrounded herself with friends who had tattoos all over, tinted hairs, piercings and her parents were very very worked up about it. They were always having clashes and Stephanie would sometimes leave the house for hours after such episodes. Eventually, both parents decided that if they couldn’t get their daughter to change her friends maybe they could change their disposition towards her friends and actually get to know them. You’d be amazed at how powerful that simple decision turned out to be.

Adolescents are not very good judges of character, it’s why we must as parents stay on the lookout. However, we must not be overbearing or judgmental.


First, they realized that a major reason their daughter hung out with these guys was that they were hurting emotionally and she was showing them that love was strong enough to bring healing, a family value that had been taught her since she was a little girl. One of them had sought her dad’s love ever since she was little but never got it so she got into the wrong relationships that broke her and almost pushed her to suicide. That was when she met Stephanie. Another friend was abused by her uncle and when she told her parents, they beat her into silence saying that no one must ever know about it. After multiple assaults from this uncle, she ran away from home when she was just 14 and had to cater to herself ever since. Meeting Stephanie was a stabilizer for her. Yet another friend lost his parents in a car crash. He became withdrawn and helpless. He at some point became scared that he could lose the memory of his parents so he started drawing tattoos all over his body ever since he turned 16 as a way to remind himself of the pain of losing his family. In themselves, these friends were not bad people. They were broken people, though loving and protective of themselves. They were striving to become better humans if only others would give them a chance. Their way of expressing themselves might be questionable to many parents but they were all broken people who found friendship and love in a person and more importantly, a desire to become better versions of themselves. When Stephanie’s parents realized the bond that brought them all together, they wept. At that moment, they realized that their daughter truly upheld their family values, even when it wasn’t easy for her. They couldn’t have been more proud of their daughter. Research proves that the more you know your children’s friends—and they you—the less likely it is that your child will choose problem pals and engage in risky behaviours. So, let’s play a game, shall we? How many of these can you accurately answer?

  1. What is the name of your adolescent’s best friend alongside the next three or four closest friends?
  2. What is the favourite leisure activity of each friend?
  3. What are the first names of the parents of each friend?
  4. What kind of relationship does each friend have with his or her parent?

Some adolescents have poor social skills. Keeping ‘bad’ friends might just be their own way of filling that void. They need help

If you weren’t able to answer at least two of those questions above, then it’s time to get more involved in your adolescent’s social life so that you can boost your influence on his friendship choices because as you know peers have a strong influence on the behaviour of adolescents. In fact, some researchers have even suggested that parents exert virtually no influence on their children’s behaviour when they are adolescents — peers are seen as that much more important. However, Chris Knoester, lead author of the research study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University found evidence that parents can act as architects of the friendship choices that their children make. So, you see the need to understand the process of friendship formation. You cannot do that without having answers to those questions above 😊. The case with Stephanie isn’t always the norm. What if you have established that this “friend” is not only a bad influence but also a danger to your adolescent’s safety or values if the relationship continues? Then it’s time to halt the friendship and teach habits that help your adolescent move on and make new friends. Here are a few skills to teach your adolescent to help him stand up to a troublesome pal.

    • Does your adolescent keep hanging around this peer because he doesn’t know how to make new friends? If so, teach your adolescent how to introduce himself to a new peer, make simple conversation, and listen attentively. Friendship skills are teachable, and the easiest way to teach the skill is to model it for your child and then let him practice and practice it. If you need specific tips on teaching social skills, you can reach out to us, or get books that teach social skills or you can just talk to your school counsellor or psychologist for more advice.

 

    • Teach your adolescent how to say no. I had this problem as an adolescent. I never knew how to say no and it cost me a lot. Whether your adolescent has a problem friend or not, he/she needs to learn exit strategies to help her get out of awkward or risky social situations.

 

    • Tell your adolescent that he can always pin the blame on you. “My parents won’t let me.” “My dad will ground me for life.” “It’s their stupid rule.” This happened to be my favourite as an adolescent. Everyone knew my dad so when I blamed him as my exit strategy, they dared not pressure me. I’d just say, “my dad said…” and that was it!

 

    • Tell your adolescent to always proffer alternatives. “Why don’t we go to Domino’s?”, “Let’s do this instead . . .”, “how about we do it this way…”

 

    • Develop a secret code with your adolescent. Once he calls you with the code, you know he needs help in a tough situation and wants you to come to pick him up or help out. It could be something as simple as, “Mom, I think I’m having a migraine.” If he calls with the code, drop everything and go pick him up or do whatever is required. And by the way, never let your adolescent out of the house without some money or a cell phone that’s fully charged and loaded with airtime so he can call home if required.

 

    • Finally, stress to your adolescent that it may be hard, but he should learn to stay firm. He should continue to repeat “No” like a broken record until the other peer gets the hint. Emphasize that his goal is not to change his friend’s mind or alter his behaviour, but instead to stick to what he himself knows is the right thing to do. And stress this idea: “If it feels wrong, it probably is.”

 

It’s usually best to let your adolescent choose the ones he/she feels most comfortable with and then practice them over and over until they can finally be used in the real world.

A Story from a Parent: My fourteen-year-old befriended a peer who should have been nicknamed “Trouble”. I have no idea how they became friends but my son became involved in many troubling activities in school ranging from skipping classes to jumping over the fence for outings. I was sure that my son was well on his way to being a full-blown criminal simply because of the entrant of this boy into his life so, I changed him from being a boarding school student to a day student then enrolled him into a music school for after-school lessons. Ever since he was little, he had always had this knack for the piano so I figured it was about time he channelled his energy towards something more productive. He found two boys who shared his music passion, and they started a band. By that time the other ‘trouble friend’ faded from his life.

 

As parents, what’s the biggest thing you’re struggling with right now that I can help you with? You can leave your comments or send me a mail at TBOG@tsageandtbog.com. If you enjoyed reading this, don’t forget to share it with other parents.

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