We started autumn with our hopes and our doubts regarding back to school season and here we all, still navigating this strange, new world.

Hi, I’m Kirsten Cobabe and I support parents and teenagers through the often confusing waves of adolescence and in 2020 things got even more complex. Gone (for now) are the days where your teenager can run out the door without much notice or preparation. Maybe even gone are the days where you had a little time for yourself. These realities can cause stress and they are just the cherry on top given everything else that we are individually and collectively juggling. We have all heard about filling our cups before anyone else’s and I also know that some days this feels impossible, so I wanted to share five ways that you can support your teenager, that also support you.

These steps have the power to bring more balance into your day, naturally. This means there is no pressure to carve out time for yourself (although that would be amazing). These steps are built in to your day-to-day:

  1. Listen to your teen. Sounds simple, right? If we all knew how to do this there would be no more, or at least fewer, arguments and miscommunications. Learning how to genuinely listen is an art and a skill, especially when it comes to a budding young adult who you are in the position of raising or supporting. No doubt that they have held up some difficult mirrors along the way and now the reflection is closer than ever because everyone is home. My online course dives into this and more, sharing how to implement authentic listening and why it is important, plus why it works. Here’s the gist: most of us learned to communicate in our own childhood days by arguing, being the loudest or by tuning out. The truth is we can actually listen without necessarily agreeing with the other person and we do this by asking reflective questions like:

“Do you need to vent or do you want to problem solve? We can also just sit here together.”

“Wow, your teacher said that to Julia…I can imagine that was difficult to watch?”

Adolescents often experience emotions more intensely than adults do and an awareness of this and other typical teen traits can support your communication and connection. The goal is not to win or lose, or prove your teenager wrong or even change their behavior. The goal is to listen with your heart and engage your curiosity. When done authentically, this can bring balance as well as the possibility for a better connection with your teen. Maybe even a little extra time in the day for you too.

Young people are allergic to inauthenticity and they need to know, and feel, that you value their perspective. If we tell teens to look on the bright side or get over it, they will most likely stop sharing with us and they will look elsewhere for a listening ear. This in itself is not a negative response, however it can be depending on who they turn to. Teens do need outside resources beyond their parents during this stage so remaining close will support them in asking you for what they need, beyond you. And you will have the opportunity and honor to guide them. One of the most important tools you can utilize as a parent, caregiver or support is take a breath and tune into what your teenager is saying. You don’t have to know the answers, but if you want to support your teen in finding their own answers, listening can help to get you there. Ask clarifying and reflective questions to understand the root of what they are saying and experiencing.

  1. Align with your teen. This happens naturally when we apply the previous way of being; tuning in and authentically listening. Once we validate and connect, the ability to look deeper emerges, even if not right away. Young people are navigating this world alongside us and many are quite social given this transformational developmental stage. It is heartbreaking for many not to be able to see their friends like they used to and yearn to. Not to mention that this hybrid/home/virtual schooling is tough on teens right now. Many have even more homework than before and we know from a variety of studies that homework is a dated approach that only serves some young people. Try some of the following phrases and feel free to adjust them to speak your teen’s language:

“Wow, sounds like that teacher isn’t being fair.”

“That is way too much homework!”

“I am so sorry that we have to schedule and negotiate time with your friends right now, I get that this sucks.”

Steer clear of problem solving until you know they are ready for that step of the process. And visit me over at @kirstencobabe to learn more about the stages of change so you know how to meet your teen where they are.

  1. Ask them the miracle question. I learned about this in graduate school and it has served me and my clients very well over the years. When your teen is having a tough time, feel free to ask them:

“Suppose tonight, while you slept, a miracle occurred. When you awake tomorrow, what would be some of the things you would notice that would tell you life had suddenly gotten better?”

“Imagine that you wake up tomorrow morning and your problems have shifted, things have gotten better…what would what look like?”

A common mistake we make is avoiding going deeper into a person’s pain because we’ve been culturally taught to suck it up or that by talking about it we might make things worse. But research illustrates just the opposite. Pain is a portal. Pain is often required for growth. It doesn’t mean it doesn;t hurt, but it does mean that it is natural and a part of life. Exploring what is difficult supports the processing and regulation of our emotions and even resiliency and two essential life skills for us all. Consider your best friends telling you, “I just had the worst day!” Would you say, “Oh well, that’s life. We all gotta do it.” Or would you say, “Ugh, I am so sorry…want to talk about it?” and then continue to offer a compassionate ear as they sift through their experience? Your teenager needs your compassionate (and non-judgmental) ear.

  1. Get curious. Sometimes we forget this one, however this shift in perspective has the power to alter our experiences, for the better. If you teenager lets you know something is challenging at school, getting curious helps us uncover what they are going through. If we don’t dive into the conversation with curiosity and openness, we risk missing some critical information along with an opportunity to connect and be on the same team. As a bonus, this practice supports the concept of not taking anything personally which can only further support all our relationships.

  1. Bring awareness to your breath. Again, sounds simple right? And it is, especially because you are already doing it. Bringing awareness to our breath is one of the most powerful and simple ways to regulate our emotions. This supports our ability to communicate and consciously connect in our relationships. Plus, you’ll be modeling some an excellent skill for your teenager.

We all want to raise resilient and empowered young people, and despite all the obstacles, I want you to know that it is possible. There is plenty of information the benefits of eating dinner together, monitoring screen time and how to get your teenager outside into nature and away from video games and I agree with these as goals, however I also know there is only so much time in a day (especially right now) and that without a solid foundation of true connection, we won’t get very far with young people. In summary focus on: your relationship, truly listening and pausing to breathe and regulate yourself while getting curious and also not taking anything personally.

If you want to learn more about the basics of adolescence and even more important and powerful ways to support your teenager, I am offering SPD readers a discounted first session when you join my online course. Click here to get started!

Kirsten Cobabe, MSW supports parents in navigating the waves of adolescence while learning how to talk with their teenagers by becoming authentically curious and truly present. She supports teenagers along their journey to adulthood. As an advocate for families for over two decades, Kirsten has observed the recent and dramatic shifts, along with how to cultivate dynamic transformation. Her validating approach coupled with an open-hearted space form a foundation of radical self-acceptance. She engages families in fostering rapport, cultivating conscious connections, transforming obstacles and restoring harmony in the home. She believes that through raising our consciousness, we can better raise the next generation. With those Kirsten considers herself honored to work with, specific tools are applied to create lasting change to reshape their worlds. With the right support, anything is possible.

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Read more about Kirsten here and keep your eyes peeled for a new program coming just in time for the New Year!

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