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.
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